Dealing with Injury

Ganapati, remover of obstacles

Since beginning Ashtanga practice over four years ago, my back has been injured exactly three times. I remember each episode clearly—location, length, effect on practice. By far the most intense and disruptive is the third and current one.  

This time, I have been unable to force my back into an agenda of what will happen and when. 

Next Monday I will do the entire first series.
Every day, forward bends will hurt less.
Because they are the only thing that doesn't hurt, my backbends will improve.

The usual rules of how to behave and to heal do not apply. I have become a space traveler, researching and examining everything about myself, the practice, my body. And if I truly want to know anything, being forced to inquire, is not a bad thing.

What is pain?
What is warning or harmful pain?
How far do I push? How much do I rest?
To what degree is what I do and think affected by ego and conditioning?
And so on
Everyone's answer will be unique, so the applied particulars of my inquiry are not important (and subject to change) but here are a few: sun salutations are a meditation on body in the present moment and help determine the day's practice. Am doing very few forward bends and no counterposes to many backbends. Stretches replace some poses; I use a roller between others. Some days it's running instead of practice; some days it's rest! 

Maybe the most helpful words are—look with an open mind for the questions. This one wins the door-prize:
To what degree is what I do and think affected by ego and conditioning?

May we all be free of suffering!

And this too is yoga.


Gratitude to Greg Nardi for this support, paraphrased: adapt, do what feels right AND your injury will take about three months to heal. Three months?! (Did not believe him then.)


mud bud

pedestal to petal pink
yoga streets to city mats
mind pose to heart dance 
 all mud all muscle 
all petal

It feels like everything in my he(art) is coming together. We are almost ready to put the 360 Project - bottles out all over the world and the web site has been tweaked all the way from mud to lotus and back! This Quiet art project is about to hit the streets and the peeps! 

The entire process begun about a year ago, vibrates in the present. It germinated slowly and quietly, and folding those maps of Kathmandu, Ferguson, and Charleston into tiny cranes released a lot of good energy in all directions. And the seeds! Pure magic—from mustard seed to global "seed," I am in awe of them all.

And within this beautiful circle of earth and mud—lotus and bud, I will leave soon to visit my brother. I will struggle with sun salutations with a (still) injured back. I will get angry, cry, and laugh.

I am humbled by the fullness.

And this too is yoga (and art)! 



Occam's Razor: Kino's Hip: Mandelbrot's Fractals

What do Occam's Razor, Kino's Hip, and Mandelbrot's fractals have in common? 

Well, here's the simplest answer (Occam's Razor): we are all basically individual components, exactly the same as the whole (fractals) and we should forget about Kino MacGregor's (hip) yoga mat/issues and focus on our own mat—our concerns are all the same! What could be simpler than that, Occam?

Guess that's it for this entry! 

OK, not quite. 

It's been an interesting week, with a focus on injury. My old back issue—quadratus laborum strain/pain—showed up with a vengeance after John Bultman's workshop. Taking it easy for three days with (too much) time for social media, I saw a link related to Kino's recent hip injury that went into detail about Kino, her public image, injury details, and her training with a circus acrobat(!)

Kino has a monumental following in social and print media, making her in my mind something like an Ashtangi Kim Kardashian. Like Kardashian, her public and popular culture outreach is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does leave them both open to the projections and judgements of people with proclivities of every kind. And everyone seems to have an opinion about both of them.

So at least on one FB site, a long list of judgements and responses trailed down the page about and beyond Kino! 
"Really? A circus acrobat trainer? She's a yogi not a circus performer!" 
We are all dealing with essentially the same issues in life and on our mats, trying to do our best and seeking happiness, and the fuss made me that much more aware of a lot of things.

I had one recurring question. Does Kino realize the power of her public actions and pronouncements?  I want Kino to be more responsible and honest. But what does that mean?  My reaction reveals more about me than it does about her! So thank you, Kino for being such a flashpoint for so many issues, and inspiring me/us to greater self-awareness. 

Now about my own injury. It's perfect! Tailor-made. Back bends feel wonderful! Forward bends are horrible—eek-ish! (Day1, I couldn't touch my toes.) I also feel very clear and unconflicted about how to deal with it day to day—do back bends and whatever else doesn't hurt (not much), and as things improve add in more poses. Scheduled a therapeutic massage and ran a few miles  today. Every morning things are  a little better. Also, I'm taking boatloads of turmeric so if I look bright yellow, this is why.

So Occam, I do believe your razor has cut through the bullshit; Mandelbrot, thank you for making me SEE our beautiful sameness; and Kino, your hip has brought it all back home again!

And this too is yoga! Including and especially this—
A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.  —Albert Einstein




"Yoga is the practice of tolerating the consequences of being yourself." 

- paraphrased from Bhagavad Gita

The topic of aging has surfaced again thanks to teacher and Ashtangi extraordinaire, David Garrigues. Today my thoughts are ever more focused, largely a result of his post a few days ago.

When I started this blog, I had hoped to get answers and clarity about aging, life, and yoga by way of comments and discussion here. If I knew what others were feeling and experiencing, perhaps I could better understand my experience; however, answers have not appeared! And even if hundreds of us had discussions here, I would have still realized this: it is not (entirely) possible to find/know Truth outside myself.

I am the expert—as we ALL are experts of our own bodies, hearts, and realizations. So this is what I know is true about aging, yoga, and life (same things!): resisting and denying the inevitable is just as useless as TRYING not to resist and deny. In an odd way, energetically they are the same thing.

Does that make sense? One of my teachers always says: let everything be as it is. This gentle guidance results in a sense of freedom and peacefulness for me. It encompasses everything—enjoying life and even resisting life (and aging). If you fight it some days and love it other days, observe it and enjoy it either way.

And here's another discovery: there is a huge anxiety and fear about aging out in the world that most of us automatically support. A big part of it is trying to hold on to things as they are now. But listen—yes! things are going to change because they are always changing and always have been

If every moment is approached with a beginner's open, non-judgmental mind, and with awareness, all will be well. The truth is: there is no better or worse or progress. Such words are weighted with an inherent sense of judgement and comparison, and words such as "dissolution" and "death"—are understood almost universally with an unconscious negativity. However, they can be neutralized by substituting CHANGE in their places allowing us to experience curiosity and acceptance about what IS. 

Take your practice, these and all words/thoughts with mental lightness, be curious, and enjoy! Not only will your practice be joyful, your life will be beyond beautiful.

Have I been able to do this every day all day?   NO! 

Sometimes I am like this: 

Sometimes inside a transparent shell and  led by conditioning:

Obsession, M. Roland

Sometimes, all prickle and no sign of me:
Car from movie "Mad Max: Fury Road"

What stays the same is the observing and enjoying. It's fun to "fluff my aura" (words of yet another teacher) and get all exhausted trying to get a pose, feeling frustrated, angry or successful about whatever, or ranting about age. Underneath, it feels like a game, a bone thrown to ego to make it feel like it's accomplishing, feeling, and changing things. 

Where I'm at in my practice and life at the moment is a willingness to be on the edge, to think and act big  because what have I got to lose?  What am I waiting for? Nothing! As Karen Cairns, who is close to my age, has said, she has learned to live with uncertainty. Me too! (And the fact is ALL of life is uncertain.) 

And it's crept up on me, but I have also learned to tolerate the consequences of being myself! 

metta! metta! metta!

David Garrigues' Facebook page with comments on aging

I'm going to include below a lovely statement by Mary Taylor (Richard Freeman's wife)  about Ashtanga (substitute "life" for Ashtanga words) and aging. She says it with such grace!

But a fundamental reason we practice is to bring deeper and subtler levels of awareness to the body, mind and emotions on a daily basis. A foundation of the practice—beyond the particular poses we might be practicing—is watching changes within these fields of experience, and catching oneself sooner when the mind is “being lazy,” when we’re believing our presuppositions rather than observing what’s actually arising, when we’re trapped by samskaras or overrun by the obstacles that are constantly tossed in our path. Our minds all have one part of them that wants to rationalize its way out of practicing—that can convince us it’s hopeless to adjust alignment or take a second look with a teacher at a persistent injury or mental state that is blocking the path that might deepen our insight. 
So as you age you may find it harder to do certain poses like you’ve always done them, to move so swiftly through the forms as you did 10 years ago, or that you are actually feeling lazier than you used to. All that’s good to see and to work with, with a sense of kindness and curiosity within the context of breathing, and an integrated practice. Once you’re hooked, (and 12 years counts) yoga is with you forever—it’s already ruined your life! Short answer: Always look again.


my brother wants hot chocolate


It's Sunday, at last a quiet moment to reflect.

But on what? Events and emotions feel so densely compressed these days, they cannot even be observed. Maybe if opened, peeled apart, inspected one at a time, the truth/beauty in them can be seen.

On the surface, it all looks manageable. Went to California and attended a remarkable retreat where I experienced wordless and unmoving silence, a vast nothingness (that was something); did my yoga practice every day; meditated with and beyond sleepiness for the first time (hooray); and enjoyed good food and cold Tahoe weather. At the end when retreatants "re-entered" the world, I felt sadness because I had no one to hug(!) and because my heart was already breaking from family stuff. 

There was no savoring the small satoris. In Woodland my brother was lying prone in a bed at the far end of a darkened room he shared with two other men whose TV's were at shout volume. His curtained cubicle contained a hanging TV, an old, beige land-line phone, and a table that swiveled to and from the bed, which offered cookies, books, and a pee-bottle. In the corner, behind a wheelchair was a window with blinds pulled down. Black butterflies adorned an event calendar pinned to a framed cork board, and below it, was a note written in block letters:


I started to cry. How could this be? My brother here in this strange place, alone, apparently dying? But this was not about me. My brother has always been indifferent to surroundings, clothes, material things, and appearances. Underneath an unhappy, "difficult" (in the extreme) nature was/is a loving, charismatic man with a monk's focus  toward the world. He had in fact, wanted to become a monk and entered the Christian Brothers Order his third year of high school. Believing that he was too young to make such a decision, our parents  insisted he abandon this life choice. I have wondered without assigning blame, if part of the source of his problems was that parental interference. Of course, who can know where other paths might have led? 

We talked. I cried. Was he happy? What did he think of dying and being in hospice? How was he feeling? I trimmed his overgrown and neglected beard and mustache. I brought him pen and paper; held his hand (while sitting in the wheel chair moved from the window corner), watched him eat overcooked zucchini, ignore a slab of pizza, and experience physical pain; I showed him emails from our cousins, pinned up a drawing from his granddaughter, and true to my conditioning, tried to fix things—things that cannot be fixed.

He is very sharp minded and tough. I believe it will be a while before he leaves. His family and everyone are doing their best for him and for themselves. 

All is as it should be. Even deep deep heartache.

Is there anything more powerful than birth and death? Love is too small a word. 

And yes, this too is yoga.


Got to add these 2 beauties again

by Jean Valentine

In blue-green air & water God
you have come back for us,
to our fiberglass boat.

You have come back for us & I’m afraid.
(But you never left.)

Great sadness at harms.
But nothing that comes now, after,
can be like before.

Even when the icebergs are gone, and the millions of suns

have burnt themselves out of your arms,

your arms of burnt air,
you are with us

wherever we are then.

I want to look at death
with eyes like my own baby eyes,
not yet blinded by knowledge.
I told this to my friend the monk,
and he said Want, want, want/

from a poem by Chase Twichell


corpse on boogie street

Been weepy for a while now.  
Driving back from Asheville today, again getting teary with
Bon Iver 
Flume, Creature Fear, Blindsided, Skinny Love* 

Leonard Cohen 
Back on Boogie Street, The Future, Everybody Knows

Bon Iver, Flume: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LuQrLsTUcN0
Only love is all maroon  
Lapping lakes like leery loons
Leaving rope burns, reddish ruse

Only love is all maroon  
Gluey feathers on a flume  
Sky is womb and she's the moon

Leonard Cohen, Boogie Street: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rswKZ0PNY_0
So come, my friends, be not afraid  
We are so lightly here 
It is in love that we are made 
In love we disappear 
Tho' all the maps of blood and flesh 
Are posted on the door 
There's no one who has told us yet
What Boogie Street is for.
Leonard Cohen, The Future: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3FzM_XrgtPo
Things are going to slide, slide in all directions 
Won't be nothing 
Nothing you can measure anymore 
The blizzard, the blizzard of the world 
Has crossed the threshold and it has overturned 
The order of the soul
I've seen the nations rise and fall 
I've heard their stories, heard them all 
But love's the only engine of survival 
Facebook these days has become a scrolling wall of words and memes—written by people other than the person posting. I feel like we're all the Great OZ hiding behind a curtain of cliches, political statements, and billboards!

Now I've just done it too. Sort of. So thank you Leonard Cohen and Bon Iver!

Why don't we just say what we think and feel? 
Because it gives us some distance from our thoughts and emotions, and poetry (one's own or someone else's) often reveals deep truth through obliquity. Add a non-verbal element like music and we're goners lost somewhere in the beauty and sadness of our hearts.

Things are going to slide, slide in all directions
 Won't be nothing 
Nothing you can measure anymore
Things are changing, beginning, ending. Death is on my mind, ego and physical death. My difficult, charismatic brother may be dying. I long to truly connect with him as we have only scarcely and rarely done. When I see him next, in a a few weeks, it might be for the last time.

And what remains of my wanting, striving ego is hanging on by its cuticles.

It takes so much energy to support that scrolling wall of illusion, that self-important meme, and only by getting lucky and dropping the curtain do I realize what a burden it is to maintain. As a bonus punch to self, age is humbling, and we either accept or fight it. Very simple. This I know is true: humility is a corollary of time's inexorable goose step and one for which I am genuinely grateful.

lost in my heart
a mournful howl
gone gone goner

And this too is yoga


*thanks to KP for sending a CD with Flume on it some time ago


Ekham* Koan* Enso*

*Enso by favorite artist, HAKUIN

After morning Mysore practice this morning, my back felt so good I wanted to burst. Thanks to John Bultman's no-hands assist via Jared Westbrook, I am sure each chakra was lit up and flashing!

Today was one of a few times I have arrived in Kapotasana since John's workshop a month ago. I had no idea this could happen to someone unable (still) to stand up from back bend! And I thank Sharath for giving me the 2nd Series pass because, in my humble opinion, all those Nadi Shodana back bends are getting me closer to the Big Stand-up. One of several strategies is to drop back a little further each day (without dropping hands to ground) and use core and leg muscles to come back up. If I drop back only as far as I can go and come back up, doesn't it make sense that eventually I'll reach the ground and come up?


It's a glorious thing being a student, and what's beautiful about Ashtanga is that everyone is a student no matter what series one is doing and no matter how many people one teaches! Even Sharath thinks of himself as a student (conference notes -  January 2015). Built into the practice I believe, is a respect and honor for everyone no matter where they are on the path of yoga and/or life.

At some point, many of us become expanded - for want of better words - with love and joy - and we want to give something back. Influenced by Alexander Medin and realizing there are many people who do not have access to the health and spiritual benefits of yoga, I want to provide that opportunity.  

Now I am in an interesting situation. 

I have volunteered to share (resisting word "teach") the practice at an Asheville church that offers various free services—from friend Barbara's story group, to acupuncture, to delicious meals. Making  easy, free, access to yoga available, I have done. 

However, questions/koans* have arisen:

     Should I play the role of teacher instead of a person who is there, hangs out, and shares?

     Should there be a little more rigorous structure to the "class" (not many have shown up!) in accordance with people's expectations about what a yoga class is. Mysore style classes are perfect for small numbers - but they are so unfamiliar to and therefore difficult for most people in USA.

    Should the class fit people's abilities or should people fit into the basics of (Ashtanga) yoga?

     What if I provided folks who come to the church with the transportation to Asheville Community Yoga where "real" teachers are? (That too would fulfill my wish to share.)

   What happens when the rubber (one's ideas) hit the road (reality!)? Is this the ultimate koan??

So much to explore and consider! Trusting time will provide clarity and answers, and questions may be forgotten and forsaken in the "just doing it" over many weeks. 

Finally, I'm dying to talk about a collaborative project with grad-school friend Diane. Symbolized by the enso circle, it encompasses (circle-enso!) these things and all things: art, creativity, giving back, sharing, energy, teaching, learning, and completing a circle. 

And how about this for perfect? I just found out some Zen artists say the enso should be done in one brush stroke with one exhale! 

And this too is yoga!!


*ekham: one in Sanskrit
* koan: question with no logical answer


age, mind storms, and stillness


It's almost officially spring, and age issues are showing up in Yours Truly's mind blots, egged on by David Garrigues' writing about the 3 stages of Ashtanga practice;* Yoko Ono's rant against ageism;* and a book titled, "Spring Chicken."  Can't even get away from it in the title of this site, which was created in part to address (the lack of) writing about aging and Ashtanga. Are we not all charting new territory in life and in our yoga practice? What are our strengths and limitations relating to age and/or individual differences?

Planned to respond to the writings here but cannot. Overwhelmed by bright sun, newly arrived snow drops, a few croci, and a caroling cardinal. Energy to engage issues falls as the miraculous  sun rises!
Good will and evil have no self nature; Holy and unholy are empty names;
In front of the door is the land of stillness and quiet;
Spring comes, grass grows by itself.     
 —Master Seung Sahn

early snowdrops know
even under mounds of snow
sun will have its way.
—Marya Roland

In the present moment of warmth and birdsong how could anything else matter? The inevitable in life happens; grass and snowdrops know that. (And we do too.)
The sun has peaked and after a walk, I see yet again how my mind chatter distorts, and I have a renewed desire to share. Here is (an approximation of) my first response to David Garrigues' essay.
No, no, no! I don't want to be told what I can and can't do in yoga or anything else. Don't tell me I'm this or that way because I'm a certain age. I will find out for myself, thank you!! (It's a milder version of Yoko's rant. See below.)
few days later, after the mind storm settled I finished reading David's essay. From a place of stillness, I had no difficulty recognizing his essential message: acceptance. (I will say—that when David reaches 50 or 60 and beyond, his ideas on this and other subjects may change—because he will be speaking from the individually unique but universally experienced state of being and growing older.)

The main problem I have, is with words themselves (as I write even!). We must be careful  because they are such inadequate expressions of truth. They are pointers, vague hints, at best and subject at the very least, to misinterpretation. The certainty that our own illusory understanding of words is solid and absolute is the cause of much of world and human suffering and trouble. 

As for Yoko's comments, they were so abrasively expressed that one Facebook commenter called her age-hating. Maybe. But I believe she and I both are simply exhausted and frustrated at being seen a certain way, one that denies who we are as individuals. 

I also think we can find harmony in recognizing that these blocks to true human connection—racism, sexism, ageism——exist and persist. They are going to be around whether we like it or not, and so we live with them. We accept —and we rant and/or work for change, knowing that these isms do not define us.
Some people are old at 18 and some are young at 90. Time is a concept that humans created.” 
- Yoko Ono 
 Finally, Indifferent to both youth and age, my beloved little Indian kitty and I don't need words, although we do speak a lot. 

With metta and gratitude for snowdrops and open hearts. May we all thrill in the innocence of spring. 
Spring passes and one remembers one's innocence.
Summer passes and one remembers one's exuberance.
Autumn passes and one remembers one's reverence.
Winter passes and one remembers one's perseverance. 
- Yoko Ono
How to calm the mind—is called yoga.

David's comments: http://davidgarrigues.com/blog/