temple near Mysore

We had been talking a lot lately about us or my going back to Mysore for a few months. Then (11/24) in Lewis' First Series led class, there was a shift. Again. Sixtyni Yogini turned after one (!) Sun Salutation to throw an unneeded layer behind her mat. It's a casual movement most of us do almost every day of practice after warming up. 

My back muscles wrenched and locked and nonchalance was arrested mid-movement. The left side -aaahooooow, the QL?—not again! Foolishly (in hindsight) stayed for the class and tears skidded down my face and neck during Savasana. I hurt but that wasn't the reason for the salt, nor was self-pity. It was a sense of relief and mental (not muscular!) release. Knew I would have to re-examine my (ego or something else?) relationship to this practice. 

Just a few days before, my sculpture class had a metal pour, and I had lifted a 50# bucket of bronze and carried it from van to classroom (SY is invincible, right?). Then, weekend before there were those intense 3 days - mornings and/or afternoons during David Garrigues workshop. 

A very stressed quadratus laborum. 
The same muscle that's given me grief for about a year. 

Know I must listen to my body. I know also I felt stiff and clunky that morning before class. Know I cannot fight truth.

But I do wonder:
Wouldn't anyone's back be screwed up after stressing one's back as I did the week before that class? 

Is the back fragile because of age? 

Would this have happened at age 30?  

Is humility the main thing I am learning from this practice? Am I not also learning acceptance?

Am I back to square 2 or 3 from a year ago? 
(Answer I think: no, the healing chiropractor, the bed, and experience will - I hope - support a speedy recovery)

Is the "I-can-do-almost-anything" self - being forced to let go?



Goddess Padmavati, contemporary Kalamkari painting on cotton, 52" x42" (from Exotic India web site)
The Goddess Padmavati has a complex history. She is also an incarnations of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, light, wisdom, fortune, fertility, generosity and courage and the embodiment of beauty, grace and charm.  The image was so interesting - had to add it - yoga related or not.

A few days ago I spent hours working on this post, which to my shock disappeared into the either with not a trace of the various "saves" I had performed. Wasted thoughts? A lesson in appreciating a moment and its unique expression - that can never be captured in the same way again? Words not meant to be shared? Don't know.

So here again is my take on Tim Feldman workshop (unique to today.) He is - in my opinion - one of the very best teachers. He pushes hard and relentlessly to get one to new or more perfect places. He's clear. He's honest. He expects and gets the best. One always feels his underlying compassion. This time he helped me with laghu vajrasana and backbend. Again, I felt guided by his compassionately demanding energy and went farther than ever before.

Then there was Charlottesville and classes with John and Naomi, now both authorized(!) These two are teachers with whom I have worked most consistently. They know this Sixtyni's moves (and self) inside and out. They demand a lot, and don't give a damn about how old I am. (They are both fabulous.) John told me to put my energy into standing up from backbend rather than on 2nd Series poses. And that is mostly what I've been doing....though honestly, I can't help working on intermediate or primary poses that are challenging and thus, fun....

This weekend it's Atlanta and David Garrigues workshop.

The back is mostly better. Feldman talked about an injury* of his that was spinal, and the journey he went through to heal, finally ending up with a regular MD and MRI's. My own has been muscular and so far - I've never seen an MD about it. Attribute healing to patience, the new bed, and continuing to practice over the  months. Am almost back to the yogini I was a year ago..... No, we can never go back, even if it's just to recapture what one wrote and vaporized a few days ago. Never the same. Makes me expand with joy.....

*Tim's wife Kino MacGregor on injury: Kino on long term injury


Ganesh Playing Sitar, painting on fabric 
(from Exotic India website)

Heading to Charlottesville, Virginia where UVA has set up a Contemplative Studies program featuring  Ashtangi John Campbell. My Asheville teachers John and Naomi are working with him - I believe as assistants  - and Naomi is taking classes in Religious Studies. Cool!

Report of this trip, the Tim Feldman workshop of a couple of weeks ago, to come. And as always, a report on the troublesome back and thoughts about an over 60 years old's body/mind response to this practice....and life.

In the meantime from Richard Freeman:
When we practice the yoga of observation and we pay close attention to something, there is a residue of clarity and relief that is discernable in the breath and is actually felt in the body. It is similar to the sensations you might experience when you have been struggling to understand something and then finally "get it," or the feeling you have when you have been deceiving yourself about something and then at last admit the truth; it is a feeling of relief, openness, cleanliness, and joy. We experience this when we pay close attention to things as they arise because we are directly perceiving, rather than distorting out observation by imagining that things are the way we expect or want them to be. 


Hanuman Healing*

The above photo is a Hanuman image in honor of Ashtanga Master, Tim Miller. The Mt. Shasta retreat with him was fabulous. Mornings started with Pranayama and were followed either by First Series led or Mysore style class. Then, breakfast outdoors in the quiet town of McCloud, CA. Each afternoon a hike culminated in a swim in an icy to cool mountain lake. (Tim claimed this was great for any soreness/inflammation we were experiencing!) Late afternoons were Q&A periods followed by a amazing dinners that pleased vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores equally! 

cairn on Mt. Shasta hike

I was still having problems with my back, and Tim and his assistant, Leigha came up with a combination of First and Second Series poses for Mysore practice that were perfect (and similar to what I had been doing on my own). Tim said he had had the same quadratus laborum muscle injury. He knew exactly how to adjust me, exactly—with strength and certainty!  Do believe he has inherited gifts of the lineage and may be channeling Patabhi Jois. 

Miller is a regular guy who radiates calm, good energy, and compassion. Think he is about 62. Leigha implied that he has had a lot of injuries (IMHO this guarantees compassion.) His voice quivers sometimes (not sure what that is about and it never came up in talks with Leigha). He seems both dynamic in the spirit of Hanuman (see below) and vulnerable. Maybe the voice quiver conveys fragility. Anyway, doubt he knows what a powerful teacher he is.

It was not at all a young (20's, 30's) group. There were several close to Sixtyni Yogini in age! Several in their 50's and most were near or in their 40's. One Ashtangi who looked 30 but was 40-something proposed the Ashtanga Age Theory: all Ashtangis look 10 years younger than they are. I agree. Start asking Ashtangis their ages. We rest our case!

Lots of help with the stubborn laghu vajrasana. Backbends also. There's a thing that Tim and his assistants do to aid standing up from back bend. While in the back bend, they press on your hips and tell you to push against their hands. Then they put pressure on your upper chest and like a magnet being pulled, you stand up! It's a magic magic touch! 

Also, this was not a silent retreat. I worried that talking would dim the intensity and get us/me all caught up in social games. In fact, it was just different. I enjoyed getting know a few wonderful people by way of talk and during the silence of practice), and it turned out fine.

After the retreat my back has been much improved. That is, pain in the QL muscle  much diminished. In addition to the retreat, here is why —
  • The Trials of the Princess and the Pea: between the last post and this I bought and  took back a temper-pedic and got a gel mattress because I thought my back wanted more firmness. Now I think the temper-pedic was really helping. Going to give the gel some more time before going through the $$ and hassle - big hassle - of trading in or selling the gel and getting another temper-pedic. 
  • One thing is now certain, the old bed played a big part in the exacerbation/slow healing of my back/QL muscle. I'd wake up not refreshed but stiff with that nagging pain above my left hip. It reminds me of getting a stiff neck and continuing  to sleep on it wrong. Make no mistake: a bed and pillow play a big part in healing muscular and spinal issues and in sleep.
No one has ever suggested that age was responsible for my back issues - before last weekend at a workshop in Atlanta - Fie!! 

Indeed, my body has been and is changing. It's more than just losing quite a bit of weight. There are major differences in strength and flexibility. And more subtle muscular ones. I think my body/muscles/spine have to pass through some stuff (like back or hamstring connection issues) to fully release, and each person has their own unique passages. Flexibility is interesting—while it may appear that I am and always have been bendy—I think things are letting go on a much deeper muscular level. 

And in ways and levels other than muscular? Maybe that too.

That's the Mt. Shasta report. (Tim Feldman workshop is up next in Asheville.) I am very grateful to Tim Miller and his assistants for their compassionate and healing energies.


* "Hanuman is a god of physical culture, who possesses great health and amazing strength, wisdom, wit and supernatural powers. He gives courage, hope, knowledge, intellect and devotion. He possesses great healing powers by the means his own natural health and strength and the knowledge of medicinal herbs."
- from Hanuman Center:  /http://www.hanumancenter.com/

link to Tim Miller's blog:  http://timmiller.typepad.com/blog/


Next week am leaving for an Ashtanga retreat with Tim Miller in the shadow of the formidable Mt. Shasta (above). The 7 days will certainly provide some answers (maybe more questions, too) about Ashtanga and an aging body via Tim, the group, and my body.

Slowly, slowly the back improves but usually not when and the way I want it to! I want to easily do forward bends and do Kurmasana and Supta Kurmasana the way I used to 7 months ago! The chiropractor—yes, chiropractor! it's the one thing besides a regular MD I hadn't tried. Who knew? Thought they were all that sound made by ducks. That and the new bed have made noticeable changes, but  improvement feels glacial. 

More to come. 



The other day I was stretching out before running at a nearby lake. (Lately, I often alternate a long Ashtanga practice with a short one and a run.) A man came up to me and said something about how flexible I was and then that he had a pulled groin muscle and was getting old. He asked me what he should do about the groin muscle. I didn't know what to say, but felt our shared confusion about aging and replied, "Growing older is uncharted territory for all of us."  


Not sure about "all' of us, but that makes two.

Then there's this link people have been passing around about yogis in their 90's. I wonder what these women and Mr. Iyengar (the only male in the group) have to say about how their practice has changed over the years. 

Tried something new for my back—a chiropractor. Have had some bad experiences with these people in the past, but this guy came highly recommended. "He's a healer," said the acupuncturist who worked on my back. He might be. After several clunks in my spine and pelvis, I feel great. Will see how it goes after led First Series tomorrow. 

Below is a quote from Keno MacGregor from 12/02/10. She pretty much nails my ego this past 6 months.

"If find yourself faced with a debilitating injury one of the hardest things to face is your own ego. The egoic mind hates to feel like it is slipping from the front of the pack and will cringe and twist when you lighten your load to go easy on your body. Just let the ego bleed itself to death. This ample serving of humble pie will be just what you need to be free from that little whiny voice in your head that thinks your value is tied to your achievements. And this is the best type of pain to accept on the road to purification. If you find yourself caught in the quagmire of injury try to accept where you are and unroll your mat every day as a commitment to the devotional path of yoga while learning new techniques that keep your body healthy. As someone who has personally gone through a complete litany of painful injuries that have forced me to modify my practice for a period of time on the road to better alignment I really empathize with your egos pain. There is nothing fun about suddenly not being able to do what you could once do every day with ease and grace. It feels like a slap in the face and all sorts of nasty emotions arise. Everything including jealousy, anger, anxiety, depression and much more all arrive and try to knock the stuffing out of your yoga practice. But the only way out of the illusion of the ego is go straight through it. If you face a battle of ego when you modify your practice to be pain-free in your joints you can rest assured that you are absolutely doing the deep work of the spiritual path of yoga."



Here's some history: I've had a "bad" back for over 6 months. The issue first appeared acutely and suddenly—like a thunderbolt—over a year ago after a backbending adjustment (leaned on full weight). And at the time it felt so good! Minutes later, getting into my car I was in breath-sucking pain. The serious hurt went away after a week or so and returned briefly after another adjustment. Between those episodes, functional pain waxed and waned.

Anyway, now I experience pain in seated forward bends, as in the first half of the First Series. Back bends are fine, but going from back bend to forward bend has to be done very slowly.

For six months I've done the following:
  1. toughed it out in daily practice
  2. taken time off from daily practice
  3. taken lots of ibuprofen
  4. taken no ibuprofen 
  5. whined
  6. taken oil baths 
  7. had deep massage focusing on the area - left side quadratus lumborum
  8. whined
  9. had acupuncture treatment
  10. purchased a heat sensitive mattress
  11. whined 
  12. adapted my practice
  13. seen a chiropractor 
  14. accepted (on some days) what I can and cannot do
There has been improvement. In the first weeks of '12, I couldn't do any pose using back muscles (that means almost no poses.) Now I do an adapted "set" of First and Second, leaving out many or most of the forward bends. About once a week, I test recovery with a led First Series class.

Slept in the bed only 4 nights, so it's early to tell its effect. Do know this: I am not waking up with a hurting back (just stiff and sore.) So maybe...

The underlying question is what does age have to do with this? It's hard for me to know for sure since I've been a steady Ashtanga practitioner for about two years, not exactly a lifetime. 

Would I have been injured if I were younger? I'm thinking not. Thinking that—for me at least—age has brought fragility. But how can I know that for sure since I have no youth Ashtanga baseline.

Is fragility the difference between older and younger practitioners? 

Day by day, I am investigating the truth of my body. 



Ganesha is the Lord of Obstacles, both of a material and spiritual order.
 Ganesha is also the destroyer of vanity, selfishness, and pride.

Posted today on my personal blog:

This Ganesh image is one I am using for a probable blog 
about a vigorous form of yoga (Ashtanga) and me being..ahem...over sixty. 
Aaargh I said it! 
Good thing this is a pretty exclusive site,
ie it sits neutrally in the ether, either to be read by a few or more people or not....

The questions is - what does age have to do with Ashtanga 
or anything else we are experiencing. 
Who knows?
I don't. 
How can we know? 

No matter what age, aren't each of us pioneers 
discovering day by day our individual and collective bodies?
And souls? All one.

Anyway, at the moment I feel very connected to this Lord 
of material and spiritual 

I feel physical obstacles 
my back 
and though I'm on the verge of a life transition, 
I feel stuck. 

Love that Ganesh destroys 
vanity, selfishness, and pride. 
3 counts—nailed again! 

When I started the practice, my age made me humble. 
At some point, I became ambitious

and puffed up 
proud because I could/can do things that most yoga students 
1/3 my age could not do. 

There you have it! 
This is the first entry.

Pour yourself out like a fountain.
Flow into the knowledge that what you are seeking
finishes often at the start, and, with ending, begins.
- Rainer Maria Rilke



Ganesha is the Lord of Obstacles, both of a material and spiritual order.
 Ganesha is also the destroyer of vanity, selfishness, and pride.