Focus is the process

Today my practice was painful again. I needed breaks. This is absolutely OK for me. I'm not stopped because one asana is not as it should be, I don't feel pushed. All my ambition is focused on getting up early (5am) to practice Ashtanga yoga. That's it.

I learned that even top performer are better when they have a relaxed attitude. Trying to give 90 percent shows better results than trying to give 180 % every day.

On the other hand I prefer to stay in bed to do anything half-hearted. My heart-blood must flood, otherwise it's not worth doing anything. I love Ashtanga yoga, but not every fashion of it.

Every day I become a bit stronger. At least it feels so. I focus on the positive aspects and I ignore the frustration. This is what yoga is. It's a mental exercise.

Now, at 15:49 this Wednesday my back is not existing. It's like a miracle. How long will it last?

Also today I'll go to bed early and I'll get up early.
On Friday I'll try primary again.

I take the steps

I take the steps of the subway entries, I take the steps at home. I need strong legs for so many asanas. My legs are slightly sore, something is moving.

Before katotasana I was advised to do an exercise that shall help me to relax the upper body and to keep the legs engaged. I lie on 5 blocks that are under my arms in the middle of my back. With the hands I press against a wall. Slowly I walk down the wall with my hands. The pose gets deeper that way.
I'll have focus on the breath again. My breath is superficial these days. I even hold it, not on  purpose, but I fear the back pain. My practices are not pain free. A yogi told me a trick today after the practice, that helped him. Just laugh at and about the pain. This can indeed help, because in my case the pain is probably chronic already.

I do what is possible without pushing too much. I trust that my daily practice will help me to get better every day a tiny bit.

The rhythm to go to bed early and to get up early is perfect. I love the sun rise. Often the sky is red. It's such a joy to see this in the morning.

After the practice I went to a vegan restaurant round the corner to have a lemon-chia-cake and a chai. It had the addiction factor. But my breakfast at home is also excellent. From time to time to step out of the routine spices up life.

I progress again, and this shall be my focus

This was my supta kurmasana in 2014.
(Facebook excavates all these old pictures. I'm not sure if I'm convinced about it.)

A reader asked me in a comment if I know how this SI joint injury happened:
One cannot be sure. But I suspect that in my case i.e. supta kurmasana was the cause, because in the 'tradition' (whatever this shall be) it's always the left leg first behind the head. Then comes the right leg. My right side of the body is stronger as I'm right-handed, so it's harder to be as flexible on the right side as on the left side. But I needed much more flexibility to get the right leg not only behind the head, but also above the left leg (see picture). I personally am convinced that if I had altered legs, my body would still be balanced and therefore my body would be OK.
Padmasana is another pose that created imbalance in my body. Here too, one has to take the left leg first. Always. I used to alter legs. And I'm back to it.
These asanas are advanced asanas. For me it's important to practice both sides evenly. I can be wrong.
Not only Ashtanga yoga practitioners have SI joint issues. There are many causes. But one can do something to avoid it.

I learned that it's important to have strong abdomen. One has to do extra exercises probably. The muscles always keep the joints safe. I got stronger during my yoga practices, but Ashtanga yoga is not a strength training.
I think that this is an important rule. Always engage muscles to keep the joints safe.
This is also true for poses when the shoulders are challenged. How to do it? I learned a lot from books written by people who do strength training. I.e. when you want to do a pull-up, it's very dangerous to hang on the bar. From the beginning on the shoulder muscles must be engaged and this happens when the shoulders are pulled downwards slightly. Test it. Stretch your arms to the sky or the ceiling and then slightly pull your shoulders down. Muscles do this work and with this tiny movement the joints are protected. This knowledge is important to make the practice safe.
There are always muscles that must be active.
This shoulder tip is important for urdhva dhanurasana.

And this is two years later (now):

I curse. It drives me crazy how many poses I lost.

This is my very first focus to let go of the past. I cannot turn the clock backwards. It can be that I must live now with this Si joint injury and the pain that comes with it. Then it might be so.
And I progress. Today M helped me also in supta kurmasana. I could bind, my fingers could hook and my legs were crossed behind my head. I was passive. This is also something one learns when practicing Ashtanga yoga. The ability to relax when it gets tough is a skill, that can be learned.

It's still not very easy to get up that early (5am). But I did it and enjoyed a wonderful Mysore class. It helps me, it supports me. I go home content. I'm back exploring what is possible in this life and on the mat, too.

My practice was slightly painful. I rested in child's pose after every back bending asana. This feels good and makes sure that I feel great afterward. I do.
Best is for me that I can listen to my body and it's needs. I feel free to alter the rules. I don't feel any pressure. That's how it shall be.

Now I must only get stronger again.


There are always alternatives. Instead of pashasana I practice the above pose. It was shown to me as pashasana is no more possible for me, too. I can only indicated it these days. A lot of poses are lost due to my SI joint injury that is fading away every day a tiny bit more. After more than 7 months with this painful back I have to return to my level 3 years ago. I will.

I practiced today at home. This allowed me to take some pictures. Again I realize what a great learning tool this is. The poses all look different than they feel.

Tomorrow I'll go to a Mysore class. I'm looking forward to my practice, the adjustments and the group. I feel very welcomed where I practice now.
I don't feel forced to do poses that damage my back. I can practice close to the Ashtanga series, but not strict. Yoga is about flexibility.

Soccer time now........European Championship (Germany : Slovakai)

My current supta kurmasana

"Do what is possible."

What can be seen in the picture is possible. I'm so far away from what I was able to do. And this all because of my blocked SI joint, an Ashtanga yoga injury!!!!! Annoying is only that I could have avoided it, if I were a bit more rebellious. Past. I see a bright future and I see myself there with the legs behind my head again and it's so easy that I can relax in that poses. LOL.

I should practice supta kurmasana instead of dwi pada sirsasana. Primary doesn't feel good. Second series has also forward bending asanas, but not that many, which is good for me. Alone I'm no more able to do dwi pada sirsasana. And all these leg behind the head poses were a piece of cake for me.

So in the last Mysore class we started with the pose shown above. Then M put my feet on blocks. My task was to be passive. One must be able to be passive. I trust M. Resistance is not necessary. I don't have the feeling that I have to protect myself. Soon my feet were on 2 blocks and my arms were under the legs. No way to bind. But my legs were somehow behind my head. I was lifted and the outer form was a dwi pada sirsasana. On my own, I could push my legs backwards. Perfect.

Since yesterday my back seems to be better. Perhaps this adjustment stretched my body and the cells could move to their origin place. I don't know. I'm on my way to recover. Sometimes in tiny steps, sometimes it seems that I'm back to normal soon. Oh my, I needed a lot of patience.

An advanced yogini thinks: Thank you. I'm ready for everything.
The show can go on.
Our likes and dislikes are not really that important.

(No spellcheck available....)

Instead of eka pada sirsasana

This is the pose I was recommended to practice instead of eka pada sirsasana. This pose was also recommended by my physio therapist. It opens the hip and it's relaxing. It's indeed an excellent preparation.

All the leg behind head poses scare me these days, because I think they might be the cause for my SI joint issues. Not the poses themselves were the cause, but the rule to use only i.e. left leg first.

My issues came because my SI joint was blocked. Then the psoas adopted the work of the SI joint, but they are not made to do this. The consequence is they cramp. To loose this cramp is painful, yet it forces again the joint to work. But why is this SI joint blocked???? I always want to find out the cause. One must solve issues by finding out  why something happened. Only cosmetics is not the solution. M mentioned it yesterday, why this SI joined is blocked. It comes because of a misplacement of the hips. And why did this misplacement happen???? Because in Ashtanga yoga it's a not understandable rule to take always one leg first, either the right side or the leg side. Especially if one has to go deep into these forward bending asanas, because the legs are not that long there is a lot of pressure on the hips and the lower back. Now I have to undo this. And my strong abdomen have to support my lower back. My hips that were always even must be exercised evenly again.
Understanding is precious. It took me some time. I mean a doctor told me I have psychological issues. He obviously has a very reduced way to make diagnosis: back pain is psychological. Point. My physio therapist shook her head in astonishment. SI joint issues are never caused by the soul. Other back pain issue might have stress factors as a reason.

Now where I know the causes, I know how to practice.
Since my last practice and it was a very intensive one all is better. It's really like a miracle.
M positive feeling begin to dominate again the entire process that lasts now more than 7 months. I have hope, I love to practice. Yesterday I started taking pictures again.

At a certain age the teaching must be individual. So happy that I returned to M.

Relieved beyond imagination

Today it was already a tiny bit easier to get up at 5am.

I went again to a Mysore class, That starts at 7am.
This morning I answered to a comment that I want to alter home practices with Mysore classes. But after the Mysore class today I changed my mind. I simply learn more with M than I could teach myself at home. I want to get back to my level of 3 years ago as soon as possible, but safe. This is possible with the advice of M. He has the experience. He has the knowledge and the sensitivity. He is flexible also in his mind.

Back to the teaching. M is able to teach individually. He doesn't stop students as main teaching method, he gives tips how to progress, how to do even more.
Yesterday I stopped my practice at eka pada sirsasana. I indicated this pose. It's a deep forward bending pose and afterwards comes urdhva dhanurasana. Yet today I was advised to practice till pincha mayurasana. After this pose back bending (urdhva dhanurasana) is easier. It's important for me now to have a  soft transition from one form of asanas to the next. The advice proofed to be excellent. I practiced pincha mayurasana against the wall. First I was scared, but after several attempts I was up.

As so many asanas are not possible anymore I was recommended to do asanas that prepare the ones I'm not able to do. Yes, why not. This is flexibility.

Instead of eka pada sirsasana I do a pose that even my physio therapist recommended. Instead of dwi pada sirsasana I exercise supta kurmasana, that is I do what is possible. I practice yoga nidra and then pincha mayurasana. This feels good.

I left the practice room without any pain!!!!!!!! I sit here without pain.
I know I have to work on strength especially on the abdomen. It's very important.

When I arrived at 7am, M arrived at the same time. We chatted a bit and I learned that he has had SI joint injuries, too. This makes him to an experienced teacher.
This is always my speech, that those teacher are the better ones who had difficulties with asanas. That forced them to understand the asanas.

It's the same with yoginis. Sometimes someone comes to a yoga class and is able to bend back and reach the calves after a few months only. Usually this gets many admiration. Me, too, I love to see these forms, I love to see what is possible with a body. But for me this doesn't mean that this person is an advanced yogini. The body simply allows to do this poses. I admire those who have difficulties with the asanas, but stick to the practice.

Yogi M knows more than me. He'll guide me out of the valley, I'm currently in with all this SI joint issues. Finally I found back my optimism. This feels good.

I sit here for more than an hour and I still have no back pain. I'm relieved beyond imagination.

I return as an invalid.

I must have slept a bit last night, but not much. Again and again I woke up, I tossed and turned. At 5 am my alarm clock woke me up. Only 10 more minutes, I thought. I was so tired and I had the feeling that I could finally sleep. If I hadn't an appointment with my friend S. I would have slept in. But so I had to get up. And I managed it. This morning we had only cold water. This cold shower was good. The tiredness disappeared. Black coffee helped, too.

I had a breakfast date with friend S. after yoga, after the Mysore class with my former yoga teacher. It's now almost 3 years that I didn't practice with him. The last 7 months I was alone on my mat at home. My back pain made it difficult to practice regularly.

A lot has changed since then.
The practice starts at 7am and not at 9am, which is great.
The location is new and I love it much more than this old garage.
All the bureaucracy is done by staff and not by yoga teacher.  

When I saw M in the practice room I told him about my blocked SI joint. This injury was familiar to him. I must engage the bandhas, I know. I even think I must do extra strength training for the abdomen.

It was absolutely OK that I focused on second series only. The kapotasana adjustment that I got was perfect. I was so deep in that pose. It has been ages that I had such a performance. I sum it up: I'm again enthusiastic. I found a teacher who allows me to take care of my body.

When I left the shala M asked me if everything was OK with my back. It was. He is caring. He is not dogmatic. The yogi is the focus and not the rules.

After breakfast with S. I headed home and I was tired like hell and slept for hours. This was it for today. Tomorrow I'll practice again in a Mysore class. I loved the energy in the group, but it was not pushing. After the twists I finished my practice. Safety first.
On Thursday I'll have to go to the dentist in the morning. I don't know what I'll do on Friday. I want to cultivate home practices, too.

I'm more than happy. The show can go on. I love to get back to a life rhythm that means to get up early and to sleep early. I love the early mornings.

Today is soccer time: European championship. I watch TV.
The picture above is taken 6 years ago during the world cup.

Painful and frustrating

This picture shows me about 5 or 6 years ago. This pose would still be possible if I hadn't attended Mysore classes for the last 2 and a half years. Point.
These days I move into headstand with bent legs.
At home I would never had injured myself. I have 30 years of yoga practice behind me with more or less no injuries. 12 our of these 30 years were dedicated to Ashtanga yoga.

Today my practice started very good. I was able to do all the standing asanas. But then it got worse, even though 'only' primary was on the schedule. That I'm no more able to do supta kurmasana is not the cause for the frustration. I got weak and the vinyasas are not possible either. What frustrates me is the pain. My practice was painful again. I had to interrupt it several times to give my back muscles a fascia massage. I rolled on this tool I had bought some time ago. It lies always next to my mat just in case.

Home practices are safer. But it's too late now for me.

Today I found a post by Grimmly about injuries. He also suffered from injures and went to classes which was not the best for the injuries.
 Firstly in classes one is told what to do.
But after a decade one knows what one shall do and one tries to meet the expectations. That is one knows that it is not allowed to do preparation asanas. One has to do the vinyasaas and so on. But this is exactly what can make the injuries worse. One must be also allowed to omit asanas. Even this should be possible when injured. This seems to be a world-shaking compromise in the Ashtanga yoga community.
Today I tried surya namaskara B. It didn't feel good, so I was happy that I did it. In classes I'd surely forced myself to repeat it again. A setback would be predictable.

To follow any rules, only because it's the rule now is not convincing for me anymore. Why was I not more rebellious? I knew that it was nonsense what I had to do.
- What is difficult comes first and not after 2 hours. The results of  this training was little. Of course. It was so ineffective.
- One must alter legs in order to exercise the body evenly also in padmasana, supta kurmasana and so on.
-  I needed strength training
- To have a variety of asanas is better than practicing every day the same, every day the same, every day the same. Also mistakes repeat that way.
- Goals have a deadline. After a certain time span one has to reflect again how to go on.

Second series feels better. It's a more balanced series.
I know, it's another post where I express my frustration and where I complain. Last night I was so optimistic, but reality taught me something else. To practice with pain is hard. It's demotivating.

Every twenty minutes I have to stand up, because I cannot sit longer. A nightmare. I have to work on my attitude. The past is over.....

I think now seriously, that primary is not so good for me. After second series I feel better. I'll focus on second series.

I'm not alone when I practice at home.
The best yoginis practice at home.

Home practices

I practice at home these days. This allows me to listen to my body. It allows me to add asanas to prepare the difficult ones like back bending. I also feel free to omit asanas if they doesn't feel good.

In sum the back pain is less painful than a few weeks ago. I can do much more asanas than a few weeks ago. For example today it was possible to get into headstand with straight legs. Surya namaskara B was possible. Three times I did urdhva dhanurasana.

Nevertheless these back pain issues last now more than 7 months. This drives me crazy from time to time. Eat that frog, I think then. There is no alternative to home practices. Mysore classes focus on beginners. Beginners need rules. But the teaching must become more flexible when students practice a decade or longer. This is not the case. This rigidness of  Ashtanga yoga classes causes injuries. I know I'm not the only one who experienced this. As much as I miss being part of Mysore classes I also know that the risk to get injured is too high when practicing in classes every day. Especially at my age (57y) a variety of asanas is supportive. Instead I practiced  every day the same asanas only because one asana (kapotasana), the last one didn't look perfectly. After 2 hours of yoga practice I could finally exercise it. Exhausted I was by then. For 5 breaths I exercised this asana, this was it. Did I expect miracles? No I didn't. I followed the Ashtanga rules without reflecting. Two and a half years the same show every day, till I got injured. Why didn't I stop this earlier. I felt incontent. I knew I wanted to omit primary and focus on second series.
The only didactics in yoga classes is to stop yogis when an asana doesn't look perfectly. It follows an adjustment for 5 breaths. VoilĂ . This is not enough. This is simple, but too simple.

When practicing at home I have no commuting. I can shower after the practice. Sometimes I'm up till midnight. Then I practice a bit later. I get up after 7 or 8 hours of sleep. My life is flexible, I adjust it to my daily wishes and schedules. Not that I want to make a principle out of it. The goal is to get back to an early morning practice. But one can also maintain a daily or almost daily practice when living a bit more flexible without a strict schedule.

Time to move. To sit longer than 30 minutes is not good for my back.

On vinyasas - a list

1. One decade (!) I thought that the vinyasas, the dynamic movement to connect the asanas make my Ashtanga yoga practise to a workout. A few months ago I bought a fitbit armwrist, which I wore during my practise. Afterwards I checked my heart rate. This was a shock. Only when I did the sun salutations and when I did urdhva dhanurasana the heart was challenged. This was all under 1 minute. I had to realize that  Ashtanga yoga is not a work out, also not because we practise the vinyasas.

2. In order to being able to do the vinyasas one must be strong and flexible and one must understand the how to do it, the technique. All this might be a reason to practise the vinyasas. But what I see in classes (I include myself)  most students betray themselves or they don't know what to exercise. After 12 years of practicing Ashtanga yoga I got close to being able to perform it. Close. By now I'm not able to do it nicely. This is a wake-up call to reflect on what happened.

3. Almost 30 times the vinyasas are exercised when doing primary. I didn't count the transition from kurmasana and supta kurmasana ie. Now imagine how long I try this dynamic movement without being able to do it.
What does this mean not being able to do it? My feet touch the floor during this transition. The goal is to float through the arms without touching neither the arms nor the floor.
In the first years I learned that this transition is science fiction. Later, when the community grew more and more talented yoginis joined the community. They also analyzed the movement. I learned how to do the vinyasas from the generous yoginis on YouTube and other social channels. I didn't learn it because I practises it 30 times every day for years.

4. It is said that in the early years of Ashtanga yoga there were not so many vinyasas. There were no vinyasa between sides. Similar asanas were formed to a group and only in the beginning and afterward a vinyasa was performed.

5. Why doing the vinyasas at all? For me there is one main reason. During the vinyasas is a counter pose, upward facing dog. Being flexible means not only being able to have a deep forward bend. Flexible people can alter from forward bending to back bending to twists without long preparations.
The upward facing dog is often done very sloppily. This is what I see in classes. I know why. It comes with discomfort. But this is it. It's good to stand it till the discomfort fades away. This makes flexible.

6. The huge disadvantage of the vinyasas is that when done correctly the chest muscles get stronger and stronger. The upward facing dog is not enough to balance this. It would be good to do back bending, that is second series. Students are held too long at primary. When they finally start second series, they are stiff in the upper body. Back bending becomes horrible.
There are authors who say that one shall not practise pincha mayurasana when not being able to do kapotasana, because the chest muscles get too strong then when practicing pincha mayurasana. This author forgets that this exactly happens if one practises too long primary.
In my opinion it's also better to omit primary when starting second series for exactly this reason.

7. Quality over quantity.
Up to 30 times every day, year in year out students try to manage the vinyasas. Most are not so successful. It is much better to do less and correctly.

Today was primary on the schedule. Despite my cold I practiced. I had no fever, so why not practicing? If it would have been too much today, I could have stopped anytime.
I practiced vinyasas as described under point 4.
Then almost at the end I did chakrasana and pulled my neck. I was too fearful today. I feared that the back pain would return and it did. A wrong movement and it's back, I thought. I'm glad that this neck pain faded away after the practise. I added fascia massage at the end.
Oh yes, it was good, that I practised. It's always worth doing it.

On aging and Ashtanga yoga

Most people have a number in mind when they shall say what is old. For some 50 is old. When I was in my twenties, I thought my life, or better the fun in life is over. Now I'm 57 and I know this isn't true. The younger people are, the more they think it's better to be young. I dare to say that every decade has it's own challenges, highlights and issues.

For other people 60 is old, or 70.

No, I don't agree when people say age is just a number. With 57 I'm different than I was with 27.
To have only a number in mind when thinking of age is too limited.

Genes, life-style and environment  influence how we are and feel at a certain age. They make huge differences from person to person.

Especially when we are 60 or above the differences between people enlarge. I know people who take part in marathons at this age, others cannot walk anymore or are dead already.

People usually think that I'm about 10 years younger than I am. When I say that I practise yoga, they think that this is the reason. But my grandma didn't practise yoga and she passed away at the age of 103.

One thing is sure: we'll all die one day. If we don't die at an accident, life aggravates slowly. This is not neccessarily so. Yoga can help that life doesn't aggravate. I was once in a workshop with Danny Paradise. This was it what I remember. He realized that those who practice yoga don't make the experience that life aggravates dramatically when getting older.

We won't stay the same over all the decades. Our bodies, our minds change. So do our abilities.

At a certain point at my life I wanted to do a sportive activity that I could do for the rest of my life. I knew it was not Karate. It was yoga. There are a lot of sportive activities that are designed for young people. Soccer is such an example out of many.

Ashtanga yoga was taught to young boys first. Also those first practitioners who pilgrimaged to Mysore were young. The few who sticked to the practice are now around 60, but they practiced this yoga style for all of their lives. They are different to those who joined later in life, like me. I discovered Ashtanga yoga when I was already 44 years old.

When we get older we become weaker and less flexible. When we practice yoga we work against these developments. This keeps us younger. Yet it's more difficult to learn the difficult asanas than in younger years.

In comparison to younger people it's much more difficult and it requires more effort to stay strong and flexible because one works against the normal signs of getting older. Nevertheless more is possible at any age than one thought it was a decade ago. It's worth exercising at any age and one will see positive results.

But and here comes the next difference to younger people. It takes longer to learn anything. It takes longer to get stronger and it takes longer to get flexible.
Not only this. Injuries last longer till they heal.

My experience is that when I want to practice according my age  a variety is good. I don't agree at all to do only primary when 50+. I read this sometimes. Primary alone is an unbalanced practise. It's forward bending. My body is more able to integrate new movements when a variety of asanas are offered. I prefer to do some preparation before doing wheel pose after all the forward bending asanas of primary.

I'm not a fan of limiting oneself neither re what one is doing, nor mentally. Exploring the limits at any age is what I recommend. One day I might be happy to keep a certain level. By now I noticed that I progress at anything that I practise correctly. I progress, but slower than in my twenties.

My personal advice for myself when considering my age is:
- Take care that the practise is balanced.
- Strength and flexibility are evenly important
- Exercise correctly, because it takes so much longer than in younger years till an injury heals
- No long breaks
- Cultivate a home practise

Currently the target group of Ashtanga yoga are the younger people. A few weeks ago I was asked if I promoted a yoga clothing page. As a 'thank you', I should get a sports bra. No, thank you. Not only the clothes but also the teaching focuses on younger people. And one has to teaches the masses. Individual teaching is rare. Yet this is what is more important for older people.

I'm convinced that I can practise Ashanga yoga till the end of my life. But if I start with exercising pincha mayurasana when I'm 70, it might become dangerous, because one must learn to fall. The risk to break bones is more likely when older.

As said: How we feel at a certain age varies a lot. How long we live varies a lot, too.
Life is about exploring the possibilities. And this is my attitude.
I don't want to focus on one asana that I'm not able to do. Every day. This is not effective, nor does it fit to my age.
I also need a variety of asanas on different days. To work day in day out, year in year out the same stuff is not effective, not only because of the age. Second series is rather balanced, primary is not balanced.

There are also advantages when older. I know myself better than I knew myself with 20. I wanted to try Karate and Aikido. Then belly dance was my passion. These days I can focus on Ashtanga yoga, because I know it fits to my personality and my life style.
Most people have found a balance in life when older. I regret that I missed yesterday's party due to my cold. When younger every distraction is welcomed. There are partys, love affairs, perhaps a family with children and jobs. This all makes it difficult to have a regular practise. It becomes easier to follow a disciplined routine later in life.

The goal and the path belong together. On the mat I focus on what is possible now. I focus on the path, yet I know where it shall lead.

Oh yes, I practiced also today: second series. Back bending was my focus. So today the leg behind head poses were almost impossible. Who cares?
I shall see what is possible tomorrow........

I hope this blog post was not too chaotic.