12/18/13


Garuda Flying Off with a Tree Branch Full of Yogis
(see the yogis hanging upside down in branch at upper left)


The time has come! Two weeks from today we will be flying, two would-be yogis being carried by Garuda (OK, carried in a tin can—BOAC). I will be posting images and reports from India here, including notes on the weekly lectures, and just stuff about yoga, Mysore, news about whether we will get to attend the Dalai Lama's dharma lectures at Sera Monastery (near Mysore), and what ever else comes up. 

We will arrive in Mysore on January 2, so please if you are interested, check back for the nitty gritty in early January. 


The days have been so packed (buying a house, applying for a job, working, and more) that my practice has suffered. The backbend —that golden apple— still eludes me! I shall be happy with where I'm at and grateful to be there. Age has done (at least) one thing for me: I  am so humbled by and grateful for the practice that I do believe the ego I (probably would have had if doing this stuff when much younger) is just not there. 


Below are some amazing links.

The first is an article written by Richard Freeman's wife, Mary. It is a beautifully thought out response to a question about yoga and aging. 


http://yogaworkshop.com/blog/2013/11/20/is-age-slowing-down-my-practice/
Here's the last paragraph (italics mine): 
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.
Finally here are two very interesting, lovely posts about practice in Mysore. 

http://www.charmcityyoga.com/blog/practicing-in-mysore/
Some nitty gritty information

http://patricknolanyoga.blogspot.com
Dealing with arrival in Mysore, ego, and acceptance at the Mysore shala
(Look for the December 18, 2013 post)

So! Wish me luck! The adventure begins (always) now!

Namaste!



11/11/13

video overview of exhibition—Yoga: the Art of Transformation at Smithsonian
pose is listed as Garbhasana...Garbha Pindasana(?) (but it also looks a bit like Marichasana D



A few weeks ago there was a flurry of posts about Ashtanga and aging. Well, not exactly a flurry—three (which actually is a lot when one considers the dearth and silence of older yogis.) 


Reading the first post, it was very gratifying to know that someone else is thinking about these things:


ashtanga-as-a-woman-ages




The second—

surrendering-to-ashtanga-genny-wilkinson-priest/

was somewhat interesting - perhaps less so than the first because the writer is still quite far from my age, and because of that, I may have dismissed her concerns (as if  they were from a whiny child.)  



The third—I lost track of and can't find the link. Alas! It was a good one. Will post when I find.


****


Did I say I discounted complaints? Here's one that you can blow off: I now have what the internet calls "golfer's elbow." The knobs on the inside of my elbow are ridiculously sore and the many chaturangas in First Series are not helping. They're killing me! 


Backbending got some help in a workshop recently, but fear I will not have lift off from floor by lift off from airplane in late December. That's when journey to Mysore and KPJAYI begins.


The trip is coming together, and I am both scared and excited. Two months!


More on all these subjects to come.


Namaskar




10/13/13

Ganesha is widely revered as the remover of obstacles, the patron of arts and sciences and the deva of intellect and wisdom. As the god of beginnings, he is honoured at the start of rituals and ceremonies. Ganesha is also invoked as patron of letters and learning during writing sessions.



Last week in NYC, I signed up for a week of classes at a shala around the corner from where we stayed. After the first Mysore class, the senior certified teacher signed me in personally. He had assisted me in Utthita Hasta Padangustanana and Urdhva Dhanurasana. 


He asked me the usual basic information and then we came to my birth date, which I gave him without saying the year. There is a reason why I like to keep my age classified—especially around yoga teachers.


This teacher responded to the day of my birthday by saying he knew some people who were born on that date (Sharath was born two days later). We bantered a bit about birthdays and parties.


Then, he pressed me for the year. I gave it without fudging, as I often do.

"You're doing really well," he said. 


In a different context, those words would be cause for some small sense of elation—a compliment from a certified and honored Ashtanga teacher! 


But in that moment, we both knew what he was really saying: you're doing really well....for your age."



So dear Teachers, It's time to ask a few favors of those of you who might be willing:

Please ignore my age and hide (from me and others) whatever it means to you!  
Please do not patronize me or be surprised that I can do certain poses OR assume that I cannot learn to do others well. 
Please treat me exactly like everyone else in the class—the majority of whom are about 20 or 30 years old.  
Please push me hard.  Be ruthless and demanding....at least until I cry "Uncle!"

***On the other hand, it''s absolutely important to believe any student of any age if he or she does raise the flag and says.. .my back is injured or my hurting elbows are making chaturangas very painful, or whatever.
       

I will always especially honor the teachers—they know who they are—who have shown me the perfect balance of  pushing and compassion, the ones who drove me ruthlessly and at the same time made me feel so cared for and supported. 

That said, I have learned something from ALL my teachers—and that is at the very least—the quality of acceptance. I cannot control how teachers or anyone else respond to my age or any other aspects of who I am


So therefore, I accept and honor you dear Teachers—even though it's unlikely some of you will ever make me cry "Uncle," beg for mercy, or want to pull the "age card"!  


9/8/13

Sri K Patabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute/Shala in Mysore


Impressive building. Going to be there in January! 

Very excited and scared. Will stay until March and C will return after a month. Adrenalin!

***

Colorado was a yoga buffet, a moveable feast, indeed. 

Went a few days to Richard Freeman's Yoga Workshop in Boulder and loved his assistant, Tai. (RF was teaching a month-long workshop in the main building.) Mysore classes were intense and I got lots of help in general and moral support for standing up from backbend ("You've got it. You just need to work on technique." Well, maybe.....) 

There was no Ashtanga in Aspen, a beautiful place full of rich people that offered only an expensive vinyasa class. Though difficult, it was not particularly fun or meaningful. The order of the poses seemed arbitrary and like a lot of things in Aspen—the class had a lot of external pazazz but no substance beyond the usual New Age chatter.  

Four classes with Annie Pace in Crestone—well, that was different! Depth and intensity there certainly balanced the superficiality of Aspen. Annie made some very helpful corrections and assists, She is such an interesting person and teacher. 

Still considering an essay on thoughts about teachers (perhaps) specifically and in general. Perhaps more to come on the subject.

***

My own practice has, despite an occasional relapse, been energized. 

I have also realized a few things about Urdhva Dhanurasana:
I am going to have to figure out my own way to "get" it. Teachers who did not strive for a certain pose, never had to figure out how to work on it. Very simple - and it applies to me also—it would be difficult for me to explain how to work on a pose that I "got" quickly or effortlessly to someone who was struggling with it. 
Believe my difficulties have made me understand UD on a much deeper level than any other pose. Since I have been unable to "just do it," I've been taking it apart  movement by movement, doing it slowly. Watching at what point I need the wall, how close my feet need to be, exactly where my arms should be, and where WHERE I need more strength! Legs? Torso? I'm still not sure yet, but I'm getting closer. Oh, and all at the same time watching breath and bandhas!!
Here's my current recipe: 
  • 3 backbends from the floor and near a wall from which I crawl up the wall. As soon as I get high enough to abandon the wall, I lift on my own power.
  • 3 standing back bends with my arms crossed over my chest going as far back as possible and standing on my own power.
  • 3 standing back bends with hands extended, going much deeper, finally using the wall and standing as soon as possible on my own power.
I swear I'm going to be the ultimate expert on this pose! 
"Letting go into whatever is arising while staying solidly grounded in our body leads us to the experience of insight, and it is for this reason that the yoga traditions cherish and respect practices involving the body." - Richard Freeman The Mirror or Yoga

* * *
Post script about shalijit, the herb Sherpas use and is supposed to energize one at high altitudes: Took it in Crestone which I think is at 9000' and could not sleep. Maybe I was taking too much, but as soon as I stopped taking it, slept like a baby. Easily wired, this one. 

7/21/13



Crestone, Colorado visitor information center


Things don't really get solved.
They come together and they fall apart.
Then they come together and fall apart again.
It's just like that.
The healing comes from letting there be
room for all of this to happen:
room for grief, for relief,
for misery, for joy.

- Pema Chodren 


This Chodren quote seems perfect for when one is stuck. (See previous post.) "Healing comes from letting there be room for grief, relief, misery, for joy" and, boredom, fear, anxiety, bliss, silence, exhilaration—and more—everything.

**
Yogi Vagabhanda is about to set out upon yet another adventure. This time it will be in Boulder at the Yoga Workshop (Richard Freeman's shala - he will not be in residence), whatever Ashtanga there is in Aspen, and Crestone with Leigha Nicole (possibly) and Annie Pace. 

I've gained some perspective on the David Roche workshop and all the others I've taken. I liked Roche personally. He's a thoughtful, gentle, compassionate teacher. However, the student me came away with very few assists that I could apply after the workshop. 

Had classes/workshops with so many teachers that I'm getting  ready to write a piece on categories(!) of Ashtanga teachers. Roche belongs in the "past-dancer" group, in my opinion. I recognize this group because I've been involved with both Indian dancing (Bharata Natyam) and western style dancing (ballet and "modern" dance.) 

Haven't quite figured out how to write about all the many teacher-student interactions in a way that expresses my individual relationship with each teacher by way of the body, spirit, practice, experience, and gratitude. 

The underlying sense I feel toward all of them is truly - gratitude. More on this subject later.

**
My back is better, and I am older (ever older!) and wiser (but not always wiser!)....in relation to my body. I've come through something and am not the same physically. I am stronger! I am using more muscles to do the same things, if that makes sense. The back may always be vulnerable to relapse. We shall see. 

I've also been trying something new - Shilajit, an ayurvedic "herb."* The way I'm inclined to describe it is—high class dirt! It's a rich brown powder -  distilled from the earth. It's loaded with minerals and fulvic acid which is supposed to invigorate in general and help one to adapt to (relatively) high altitudes like Boulder and Crestone. It's also anti-inflammatory, very important as soreness has been a constant for me these days. We shall see.

Namaste

*About shalijit from the web - which we all know is self-referential - so accuracy is questionable.
Shilajit is a rare tonic “herbal” substance collected by local inhabitants in the Himalayas and as far north as Russia. It has been used for thousands of years as a tonic. Shilajit is regarded by many herbalists as the most important natural tonic substance of Ayurveda (the traditional Indian health care system). In Sanskrit, Shilajit means "conqueror of mountains and destroyer of weakness."  
Shilajit is an “exudate” that oozes out of cracks in the Himalayan rocks and cliffs in the summer months. It is composed of organic plant material that is thought to have been compressed by rock for hundreds of years. After it is collected, it is naturally purified, concentrated and processed into a potent, high-quality extract. 
 Shilajit is extremely rich in plant-source ‘organic’ minerals. Most assays show that Shilajit, depending on its source, contains between 70 and 85 complexed minerals and trace elements.  Shilajit is a humic substance, humus being the natural material that is formed when soil microorganisms decompose organic material into elements usable by plants. Shilajit is astoundingly rich in nutrients, antioxidants, amino acids, and phytochemicals. 
 The main active component in Shilajit, to our knowledge, are macromolecules known as fulvic acidsShilajit is extremely rich infulvic acids (Dragon Herbs Shilajit, from high altitude in the Himalayas, contains approximately 40% fulvic acids). Fulvic acids are one of nature’s most astounding and miraculous molecular substances, perhaps second only to DNA in its importance to life on this planet.

6/27/13

Further Adventures in Ashtanga Home Practice






So. I did my dirty laundry this morning...

....during Ashtanga practice.

Now I will air it.


Usually when my yoga home practice lapses into an occasional one-armed Down Dog with the other hand scratching my cat's chin (Down-Dog!-Kitty-Rules! pose) or my Drishti becomes an overlong and vacuous gaze into space, I figure it's all part of what is discovered, what one "finds" on the mat—experiences of all kinds. No problem.

However, when I focus on the rhythm of a washing machine cycle or the hum of my iPhone on "mute"—as carefully as I ordinarily attend to my Ujjaiyi breath, I usually end up off the mat. A problem.

So I stopped, listened, gauging the stage of the wash cycle and if/when to hang the clothes outside, went downstairs, put my yoga clothes in a basket, and hung them outside on this lovely summer day.

Yoga clothes are related to my practice...
Now where was I?  It must be time for breakfast.

It's true I am describing the state of my home practice today—not yesterday and not tomorrow

I remind myself that these are merely distracted moments on (and off) the mat, despite the fact that for the past week, I have been yielding to the impulse to shorten and go easy with my practice. 

Did I say my dirty laundry?

Am I losing the energy to practice?
Is this the end of practice as I know it?
Have I really become THAT old? 

I doubt it.

Of a few things—I am more certain.

Tomorrow I will go to Lewis’ weekly led Ashtanga class. I will feel the support of a teacher and a group, enjoy a healthy sweat, leave happily, and remember how much I love this practice. 

I will do light home practice for a while. It's a scary prospect: l may lose my brand new—ever—biceps, become less limber, and worst of all—lose some poses. “I must move forward!” is zinging my brain.  

Once again I will come home to acceptance and surrender. Making Progress is a state of mind where I trade the wisdom, vitality, fluidity, and (often) joy of the moment for a conditioned idea of what the present and future should be. Sigh! It’s a sweet homecoming.

I will read what Rolf Naujokat says in the book Guruji:
But sometimes you see people, they just do half primary, they are so aware and in the moment with it and it's so beautiful, going in and out with the breath, and some are hurrying through advanced series and look like a horse with a carrot. Realization can happen with asana or without asana because it's already there.... The moment there is devotion toward God, the first step takes you there directly. ...Yoga is...a tool that removes the veil of dust off our inner being.

I will discover wisdom for students in Kino MacGregor's article about Ashtanga teachers in elephant, by substituting the word "students" for "teachers":
Ideally, Mysore Style teachers have gone through a kind of deeply individual journey where the obstacles to true practice have presented themselves and the teachers have used the practice itself to work through these difficulties. Sometimes people have a beautiful practice just because they are good at asana, but they have not experienced a healing journey through the practice.

I will go to Richard Freeman’s book, The Mirror of Yoga and find:
So within our yoga practice, again an again we have to make a compassionate offering into the intelligence of our very own ego. We have to practice in such a way that we allow insight into the union of the body and mind, the inhale and the exhale…so that we experience our own merging into what we naturally perceive as our background—all that we see that is separate from ourselves.

I will continue to be Yogi Vagabhanda until I find “my” teacher or s/he finds me. I have been an itinerant Mysore yogi for about a year now (since my teachers Naomi Worth and John Bultman left town), and I've done dozens of workshops and classes on both coasts with just about every Ashtanga teacher you could name. Dear Teacher, I’m ready when you are!

I will continue my home practice. I will watch and see where it leads: cleaner laundry and the road to Mysore?





5/29/13

Continuing Adventures of Yogi Vagabhanda


Oh, the energy at Broome Street Temple! Though Eddie Sterne was away (during our NYC visit), the place vibrated with sincere and intense energy.

My first day there I practiced next to two women who were doing 2nd and 3rd Series respectively. I kept my eyes and mind focused on my own mat....while being blown away by their ability and at the same time feeling very supported by their fabulous energy in my own humble practice. Yes, humbling—in the best possible way—is a visit to Broome Street Temple!

I was able to practice there for four consecutive days. I did only First Series and honestly, it felt so great, each day going deeper into the experience of each pose—and feeling better. 

For a long time I believed I would never go beyond First Series and I was quite happy and comfortable with that. Then, in the space of one week three teachers including my main teacher at the time said I was "ready" to move on. 

But no! Wait! 

Then mental adjustments, transitions, and within no time, I felt the ambition of a yoga student hungry and in a hurry for more poses. PROGRESS (and let's face it-the fun of a new challenge), dontcha know?!  

After last week especially, know once again I can be happy with First Series forever. The desire to push forward is superseded by the contentment and exploration of going deeper and deeper. 

It's just a beautiful sequence of poses, and it was wonderful being in the midst of such focused energy.  
(Full disclosure - at home I still love mixing it up and doing pincha mayurasanabakasana, etc.)

I was assisted several times by a fabulous little French woman. She just seemed to know exactly what to do with me and others, and gave lots of help with my lapsed back bend. (Home practice has had its slacker aspects.) 

Someone else assisting even lay with weight of her whole body on my back during forward bend (after back bends). I waited for the pain to start—but nothing! This same assist was what hurt my back the first time.

It would be a mistake to assume my back is completely "better,"  because I've had that belief proved wrong so many times this past year and a half. I'll just say when the circumstances are right, the room warm enough, etc there is no back issue. 

I also think I'm using my abdominal and other muscles more. 

That is, my muscles are developing a balance between using the obvious ones and ones less used, For example using abdominals to AND back muscles to lift from a forward bend. Okay and also what we've always been told.... using the BANDHAS and the breath! Surprise!! 

Next week: workshop with David Roche (he's 68!) in Charlottesville, VA and whatever I can find even remotely related to Ashtanga in Champaign-Urbana, IL.

Namaste

5/13/13

The Vagabond in Yogi Vagabhanda


Lots of yoga in California. 
In Encinitas, Sharath's short and powerful talks, demeanor, and classes were inspiring. He seems wonderfully at ease, natural, and unpretentious in his role as the head of the AYRI. I liked how accepting he and Saraswati were, while at the same time pushing us appropriately.  The counts in lowered plank of vinyasas seemed SO long and my body shook with the effort of maintaining some poses. All good! I'm looking forward to India in October!
From Encinitas we drove to Santa Barbara where I did a lazy (due entirely to my energy!) Mysore class at Ashtanga Yoga Santa Barbara. Most everyone from that shala it seemed had gone to Encinitas for the 2nd week of workshops. 
Then on to Menlo Park at Yoga Is Youthfulness. Did one led class and had the good fortune to have a Mysore class with David Roche the next day. It is great to work with someone who is close to one's age! The little contact I had impressed me with his ability to assist and his powers of observation. Hope to work with him again, (perhaps in Charlottesville in early June.)
During our silent retreat at Lake Tahoe, I practiced daily, surprisingly with several accomplished Ashtangis—in silence of course—before the first meditation at 7:30 AM. One day in particular blew my mind. Believe I had squeezed in the entire first series before meditation where the body vibrated and sang as mind emptied. 
Is this why yogis practice? More on that topic later. 
The air is "thin" at Tahoe's altitude so I was often out of breath with a pounding heart. Did a led class in Reno—still well above sea level—at Studio Eight with Carol, a disciple of Tim Miller. Loooong, slow counts and all of Miller's add-ins. Sometimes my breath was 3X as fast as hers. It was fabulous! 
Now on to Eddie Stern's in NYC. He'll be out of town while I'm there, but the energy there is always good. May try Guy Donahaye's shala in the East Village one day if I can find it.
Finally - one of my bugaboos/struggles since beginning this practice has been uthita hasta padangusthasana. Have long suspected that ringing in my ears has affected my balance and the one thing I think is age related. 

Below is part of a NY Times Q&A column written by an MD in his fifties and practitioner of Iyengar yoga. It seems to support my inner ear theory. Also below is link to the entire column which may have content of broader interest.
Namaste!

Yogi Vagabhanda 
Excerpt from NY Times article: advice-on-practicing-yoga-in-middle-age-part-1.

Q. I am 55 and began yoga two months ago. I go every other day, but I still have problems with the balance poses. I did not have these issues in my youth. Is it typical to have more balance issues as you get older? — AJT, Madison
A. Most arteries become more brittle, and are more easily injured, just as the skin gets more delicate with age. Shoulder stand, plow, and poses like the gate should be trimmed back from their extremes for safety after the age of 70. The vertebral artery actually figures in nourishing a number of neurological structures critical to good balance and coordination, so it is worth our care. Our sense of balance can also be degraded with age decreased sensitivity to changes in direction and momentum in the semicircular canals(offshoots of our hearing apparatus that detect changes in speed and direction of movement), decreased proprioception (lowered awareness of position and relative location) in the joints and in one's feet, and less acute vision. These are the three determinants of balance: the inner ears, proprioception and vision.
Do the precarious poses against or very close to a wall. The wall is a wonderful, supportive teacher.


4/10/13

MYSTERIES OF (BACK) PAIN EXPLORED





I particularly related to the fiery ball in the lower back of this altered captured image. 
Was compelled to add an orchid (shot at Asheville Orchid Show) on that hot spot.
 It neutralizes my attitude toward this pain.


My chiropractor used the words "back sprain." 

This time it started out as a localized pin prick pain  in the sacroiliac joint. The chiropractor adjusted it, and I felt somewhat better. The next morning when doing pincha mayurasana my leg went up at a slight angle. 


That did it. 


It's now been two weeks—and two weeks since full moon, a dangerous time for some of us. As the pain spread throughout my lower back, sitting was agonizing and when moving from certain positions, the pain took my breath away.


Armed with ibuprofen, I went to Charlottesville, for some classes with John and Naomi and for a 1/2 first series led class with Sharath and Saraswati. (Fun and it's amazing what one can do in the presence of some people!) 


Yogically immobilized since, I have done nothing more than a few sun salutations and stretches. The words crossing a threshold "that's fiendishly hard to recover from," (see below) are echoing in my brain, but I also know that fretting about losing flexibility, poses, injuries and whatever else—is futile. 

Anyway, each day it feels better. 
I've been running 3 miles daily, It feels great to do a  pain-free movement and enjoy the gifts of warm sunshine, fresh air, and baby deep-sleep. The article about overuse injuries cited below has also taken some of the mystery out of this almost two year long series of related injuries. It's also helped with accepting rather than fighting this injury. 

The big unknown is how the 5 days of classes with Sharath and Saraswati in Encinitas next week will go.


No idea!! I can know only the truth of each moment - and on that awareness I will trust and rely.

Wish me luck.

Namaste!

Here's some quotes from article about overuse yoga injuries by Nina Jackson that are congruent with my experience: 


Overuse injuries are more subtle in nature—the result of micro-trauma to the tendons, bones and joints that occurred over periods of time.  
It's the gradual, cumulative effect of many small actions—the straw that breaks the camel's back.
Overuse injuries are “creeping” ones because of their habit of sneaking up on you unawares. 
Before you know it, you’ve lost that fine balance and crossed a threshold that’s fiendishly hard to recover from.


http://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/02/yoga-injuries-time-to-differentiate-nina-jackson/






3/12/13

Inner Teacher Inner Student




Article is a development of post from 2/20/13

There is something so grounding in writing about an experience - even if the truth of it has passed before writing is finished. Slightly before the above article was published on-line, I started adding more forward bends to my home practice, returning more to the "true" First Series.

And then yesterday as if the "powers-that-be" were affirming my practice adaptations (written about below and elsewhere), +Ashtanga Yoga Worldwide (Greg Nardi) posted this link on FB, an essay by +Matthew Sweeney


Without one making a judgment about whether the changes in Ashtanga over the years are right or wrong, the essay makes a clear statement about what is going on within the lineage. Interesting. Truthful. 

Another article written by Zoe, The Unruly Ascetic also posted by Ashtanga Yoga Worldwide continues the discussion of "rules" and flexibility within the lineage. Zoe says there is an absence of dogma in Sharath's teachings in Mysore in her blog



What there is—it seems is organic change. Sharath's instruction to students may be unique to each one. 

I am looking forward even more to studying in Mysore and have great respect for Sharath already. 

Also I remain delighted by the practice, its lead teachers, and its wise students. 

Hurrah!

Namaste!


2/20/13

fabric border design

This blog was expanded and appeared in +elephant Journal

There are days when I feel like a peacock or a crow and love doing pincha mayurasana and bakasana—even though these poses have not officially been "given" to me. These and other asanas provide me the simple satisfaction of becoming better at them over time (and they are fun.) It is one of the reasons I practice.

However, my Ashtanga practice these days might be considered "unauthorized" for other reasons as well.

I do home practice five times a week and led primary once a week, my usual Mysore teachers having departed for a more Ashtanga friendly city. Originally, adaptations and omissions were necessary because I could not do forward bends without a lot of pain (QL problem, see below). Backbends on the other hand, felt good even if I couldn't do them right. I am referring to my stoppers, standing from urdhva dhanurasana and not collapsing in laghu vajrasana. Note: intermediate poses up to kapotasana were given to me and/or ok'd by various teachers, some well known and/or certified or authorized before back issues began. 

The adapted practice includes standing poses, part of primary including the difficult ones (for me)—navasana, bhujapidasana and 2nd series up to kapotasana, a pose I had abandoned early in the injury phase. Bakasana and pincha mayurasana were added on my own. I also add hip stretching on days when back is stressed so as not to "lose" kormasana and supta kormasana.

I confess that without a teacher, my practice—right or wrong—has become more inner directed, and I value the attendant awareness most of the time. There are many times when I yield to being a slug (wonder what "slug" is in sanskrit....) and feel defeated by the backbend rule and the little thunderbolt, neither of which seem to have "improved" in over a year. 

Backbends still make my back feel great though, and I am often filled with gratitude for the practice, compassion for my back...and my age. Believe when at last I have moved through the pain, I will have greater strength, renewed flexibility, an uninterrupted practice, and will have genuinely enjoyed—for a time—an adapted sequence. 

I confess finally that I'll be grateful too when a teacher appears to direct my practice in the way s/he deems appropriate.

Namaste

See link below: a young yogi's back improves/heals with 2nd series backbends, etc.
http://theconfluencecountdown.com/2013/02/24/the-mystery-of-back-pain/