Saturday, October 17, 2009

Yoga at last!

I did hatha yoga this morning! For half an hour! It was Kripalu Gentle Yoga, nothing vigorous, but still, I did Down Dogs and Warrior 2! I've done a few gentle poses here and there before, but this is the first time I've done a full yoga sequence in 2009!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

What I did on my summer vacation

I know I haven't written much here recently, and I'm sorry. Quite a bit has happened. I had planed a trip to Colorado for the first week of September, not really knowing how fit I would be by the trip. As it happened, my back was well enough for me to be able to use my elliptical trainer for about six weeks before the trip. I trained pretty hard in the last month before we left, both on the elliptical and with targeted muscle exercises. I really wanted to be able to do some hiking while I was there.

I had some trouble with altitude (we were up as high as 9,000 feet), but I was was pleased with the amount of hiking that I was able to do. I had to stop often to let my cardiovascular system catch up, but my legs and back did great! I call that remission!

I also got married while I was in Colorado, which was the primary reason for the trip. Colorado allows couples to marry themselves without an officient (possibly the only state to allow this), so we simply took the marriage liscense up into the mountains and had a short personal little ceremony.

I came down with a cold a few days after we got back to Ohio. I swear I picked up something on the plane, plus my body was probably in shock from being back in a humid environment after the extreme dryness of Colorado. The cold had all of my usual symptoms: sore throat and sinus congestion. I had an acupuncture apointment a few days later where I had them work on alleviating the cold. My intern put needles in points in my arms and legs that she said were to "dissipate heat", and indeed I felt chills go down my arms during the 30 minute treatment. Usually I feel the movement of the chi as heat, so the coolness, like cool ripples along the surface of my skin, was a really neat feeling.

That catches me up almost to the present. I have another entry or two to write about the past week, which I hope to get up here by the end of the week.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Blissful meditation

I had a lovely meditation last night.  As has been my habit for a while now, instead of sitting quietly I used Taoist visualizations to direct chi within my body. I began by being aware of a circuit, which the Taoist call the Microcosmic Orbit, from the base of the spine up the back, over the head, down the middle of the front of the body to the perineum, then back up the spine to complete the circuit.

Then I simply followed where the energy seemed to want to flow while helping it along with visualization. Eventually I opened each Tan Tien (head, heart, and navel) to the six directions (front, back, right, left, up and down), and opened my awareness to the universe above and below me.  I felt as though I were floating within a sea of energy, perfectly supported and protected. I asked that the chi flow to places that needed to heal physically. I smiled to these places in my body.

I stayed in this blissful place for the last 10 minutes or so of the meditation until my teacher pulled us back.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Body reactions

Kudos to anyone who read my last entry all the way through to the end.  The bottom line is that I love it. I'm hooked. The procedure, the meridians, the sensations the treatment engenders, the changes I'm feeling--I'm fascinated by all of it. If I am ever again able to give massages (I have a massage license) I absolutely must take a class in acupressure massage.

The oddest/neatest thing I've noticed in the past week or so is feeling various chi routes open up at random times. The feeling for me is a menthol "icy-hot" sensation at and just under the skin.  I have felt this before when doing a directed meditation to be aware of the meridian pathways.  I would expect that to happen during meditation, when energy is flowing through me anyway, but recently I have had this sensation at other times, usually when I am relaxed, such as when I am lying awake in bed before getting up. The neatest thing is that the meridians where I am feeling these sensations are not those that (as far as I can tell) have been stimulated by the acupuncture needles. My guess is that now that the chi less stuck some routes, it is "unsticking" in other routes as well. Which I think is pretty cool.

I'm definitely feeling more flexible physically. Stretching and exercise are easier as well. My 10 minute elliptical workout no longer hurts my waist. This is good.

I am experimenting with exploring qigong a bit more as a complement to the acupuncture. Mantak Chia has some free videos of morning qigong routines up on his website. In the videos he talks about how the exercises open up the chi routes and bring energy to the organs of the body. It's pretty interesting stuff, and it feels good, so hey, why not try it?

In one of the videos he does abdominal rolling. I have read descriptions of abdominal rolling in yoga books, but I've never tried it. For some reason this week I was able to do it in a way that felt effective. It's kind of a weird sensation, but did feel somehow cleansing.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


I have now had an acupuncture treatments once a week for the past three weeks. I'm lucky enough to have a school of alternative medicine in my town (American Institute of Alternative Medicine). I knew they offered student acupuncture treatments, but I have never taken advantage of them before. But a friend at work who has had back problems about as long as I have (only hers are much worse) recently started getting treatments there, and swears by it. So I decided it was time for me to try it out.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Looking for Non-attachment

With my continuing back problems, I feel like I have a unique opportunity for the practices of non-attachment and renouncing the fruits of action. And yet, I am not doing well at this practice. I am impatient at every stage. I wanted the pain to stop. When I was no longer in daily pain, I was impatient to be able to return to normal activities like dusting and carrying without risking recurring pain. Now that I can once again perform those normal tasks I am impatient to return to a cardio and strength training fitness routine. Want, want, want! I am never satisfied!

But the body is never limitless; it always imposes limits on activities. Accepting this fact of human existence is one of the biggest lessons of the life, I think. It is why the yogis say that Corpse Pose is the most important pose to practice. We must learn the humility that there are limits to what we can achieve, and to the length of our existence.

My body has given me such a great opportunity to explore this knowledge for myself, yet I have felt that I am squandering that opportunity with my desire and impatience to return to health.

During my meditation Wednesday night I asked to accept my body as it is. I asked that I let go of the impatience and frustration, and be at peace with my body.

As soon as the meditation was over I found myself looking through the Cosmic Healing; book and found new healing meditations to try.  And yesterday I made an appointment for an acupuncture treatment next week. I made a promise to myself to schedule some sort of bodywork treatment (massage, acupuncture, etc.) for myself every Thursday for at least the next month. Understood in that promise is a commitment to stop feeling apologetic for the sensitivity of my muscles.*

So I am already making positive steps. On the other hand, I haven't stopped complaining about the roundness of my belly or the tightness of my clothes yet. So I guess I have more work to do on accepting my body as it currently is. 

I include, as a reminder to myself:
Yield and overcome;
Bend and be straight;
Empty and be full;
Wear out and be new;
Have little and gain;
Have much and be confused.

~ Tao Te Ching 22

*Massage therapists, as well as my chiropractor, are prone to exclaim "What did you do to yourself!" when they feel how tight my muscles are. This tends to make me feel like I should do extra stretching and relaxation before I feel like I can let myself get a massage. I have to accept that my muscles are simply sensitive and prone to tightness.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

An excess of Yang, apparently

The qigong exercises I have been doing for the upper back and neck have made a huge difference, and I am rarely experiencing pain or tightness in the upper back. Now, however, my lower back is tight and achey. Dr. K says my spine is stabilizing, but the muscles still seem to be touchy and become sore easily. I did go ahead and order the accompanying video for lower back pain. I arrived yesterday, but I haven't had a chance to try it yet.

With my recent renewed interest in Taoist exercise and meditation, I felt drawn yesterday to look through Mantak Chia's book Cosmic Healing, which I first read a couple of years ago. I have been doing some of his Taoist energy meditation techniques in my meditations lately, and I wanted to review them. And besides, it is nice to flip through the book every now and then. Chia packs a lot of information in a few pages and you never know when something will strike you as useful.

I came to a page that discussing two pairs of chi routes that run along the front (yin channel) and back (yang channel) of the body. Apparently the symptoms I have--backache, headache, and joint swelling (arthritis)--can indicate that the yin channels are blocked, creating an excess of yang energy.

Huh. I have known for years that I had underlying back issues that should probably have been treated, but the problems only became acute after I spent last year doing hatha yoga nearly every day. Hatha yoga is pretty yang. Maybe the yoga I did strongly activated my yang energy, but wasn't as effective in opening the yin channels on the front of the body. That would explain why I have been having so much success with yin yoga and qigong, both of which strive to gently open the chi routes and balance energy.

Cosmic Healing gives several qigong visualizations designed to open both the yin and yang chi routes that I will begin adding to my morning routine. Mantak Chia's website also has several
free videos. I am particularly interested in this Tao Yin exercise that looks like it would be very good for lower back pain.

Along with the Lee Holden lower back qigong video I just got, these practices will hopefully unblock my yin and bring as much mobility to my lower back as the upper body qigong practices have done for my upper back.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A promise

My elderly kitty, whose diabetes has been controlled for years with a special diet, now has a blood sugar sufficiently high that she has to go on insulin. The vet discovered this because she was drinking a lot of water while she was being boarded over Memorial Day weekend.  Last week was busy with several visits to the vet, a special trip to a pharmacy to buy (expensive!) insulin, and getting used to giving injections. And worrying over her health.

She has to receive injections twice a day, as close to 12 hours apart as possible. This means I can't stay late in town to attend my usual meditation class, but instead have to get home so I can give my kitty her injection. I am teaching my partner to give the injections, but until he's comfortable giving them, I don't feel I can really leave him with the task.

This means I have had to miss my meditation class two weeks in a row now.  I can meditate at home, but I haven't made it a habit to do so regularly, preferring instead the experience of meditating with other people at my weekly class. Why is it that when we most need to meditate, those very stresses of life that create the need seem to conspire to keep us from the practice?

I have been able to keep up a yin yoga and qigong practice to some extent, and that helps, but isn't a substitution for meditation.

I may not be able to go to meditation class tonight, but I promise myself that I will make time for an hour of meditation this evening. I truly need that quiet space for myself, especially now.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Return to health

Towards the end of April I did some house cleaning in preparation for having a few friends over. I straightend and dusted a couple of rooms, working for about an hour and a half.  Just that little bit of work exhausted me, and left my shoulder and upper back muslces in pain for several days.  It was then I realized that, while the rehab exercises the chiropractor had given me, and I had been faithfully doing twice a week for months, had done their work in strengthening my arms, legs, and lower- and mid-back, they hadn't targeted my upper back, leaving those muscles (mainly the upper fibers of the trapezius), vulnerable. Less than two hours of house cleaning and I was out of commission for two days! Yikes!

I immediately added stretches for the upper back into my daily stretching routine. I also began searching YouTube for gentle exercise for the the upper back. I wanted something similar to the yin yoga I have been doing that has been so much help to my middle and lower back.

I stumbled a video of Qi Gong for the Upper Back and ordered it. I have been working with this video several times a week for the past three weeks, and I have found it to be gentle enough for my underused muscles not to cause me pain. I have liked it so well that I think I may get his qi gong workout for the lower back, too.

But has my new qi gong and stretching routine strengthened my shoulders enough to allow me to return to normal activities? YES! Last weekend I was able to complete a pretty heavy reorganization of my closets. It was fairly vigorous work that took hours to complete. I had been wanting to do this reorganization for months but couldn't because of my back pain. My shoulders were a bit sore for the next couple of days, but nothing worse than typical muscle soreness (DOMS).

It has been a long road (six months since I started chiropractic), but I am so glad to finally be able to do normal activities again!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Yin yoga practice

Yin yoga has also been my primary practice for the past month. In yin yoga, you hold gentle floor poses (seated, prone, or supine) poses for several (2-5) minutes. Holding the stretches for so long encourages my muscles to really just kind of melt into the pose. It seems to be a magic bullet for my back pain. The long-held stretches are doing wonders for keeping my back muscles relaxed and the spine healthy. I am almost completely pain-free most days.

Recently I have added ujjayi breathing with breath retention to the yin yoga practice: breathing in for 8 counts, holding the breath in for 4 counts, breathing out for 4 counts, holding the breath out for 4 counts. In this way 2'45" (the current length I am holding each pose) takes about 10 breaths.

It is said that the real purpose of the asanas is to prepare the student for meditation. That certainly seems to be true of yin yoga. Sometimes in this practice, I find my mind disturbed with unrest. Not full-formed thoughts exactly, but a jitteriness or prickliness that is hard to describe. Maybe "mental white noise" comes closest as a description. I find myself irritated at the music I'm listening to (I often play Pandora's Spa Radio station), wishing I could get up and skip forward to the next song. Unrest.  

I have experienced similar sensations at times when I meditate.

Then sometimes when I'm doing yin yoga my mind is calm and untroubled, peaceful and relaxed. This I have experienced many times during meditation.

One thing I would like to do, but haven't found time for, is meditate for at least 40 minutes after my hour-long yin yoga session. I bet that would make for a nice, deep meditation. I had hoped to do that last night, but traffic was slow and I got home later than I expected. I'm not sure I'll have time tonight, either. Soon, I hope.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Just be

As I left my chiro appointment back full of trigger points, Dr. K told me...I wanted nothing more than to relax into a session of yin yoga. I just wanted to relax into a pose, not thinking about how I should push into the stretch or how long to hold it, but just let myself be in the pose. As I haven't done yin yoga in months, I set my interval timer to two minutes per pose, so as not injure myself in a pose held too long. I also made sure to avoid certain poses like twists or cobra that I though could have stressed my back.


Afterwards I felt emotionally tender. Yin yoga can do that. Today, though, I feel great. My mind clear and intelligent, my emotions hopeful and positive, my back more at peace than it has been for days.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Working on it

I meant to go to meditation last night, I really did. The last couple of times I've gone the hard plastic chairs have irritated the trigger points in my back. Lying on the floor does the same thing. Obviously I should cultivate the ability to meditate sitting on a cushion, without a chair. But...not there yet.

I did, in fact, pack an armload+ of soft cushy pillows in the car, intending  to meditate resting against them, then leave them in the meditation room so I don't have to carry them in again.

But it didn't work out. I think Wednesday is just a bad back day for me. I do PT at the chiropractor's on Tuesday afternoons, and by the end of Wednesday I can be feeling tight and sore. At least that's how I was last night. I decided not to do anything that might aggravate my back further, and went home instead. I was disappointed, but I can certainly meditate at home where I will be more comfortable.

On the plus side of life, I have consistently been doing my morning pranayama practice for the past week, and I'm loving it! I am not a morning person by nature. It often takes me a while to get going in the mornings. But with just 15 minutes of energizing breathing before my morning shower, I feel awake and  clear-headed. I feel less need for caffeine to get going, and my energy level remains high for the first half of the day. That's a habit I really want to continue to make time for, if I can.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Making alterations

The pranayama class I gave two weeks ago seemed to go well enough. The new person who was there has come back to the weekly meditation classes (led by the usual teacher, not me) for the past two weeks. So at least I didn't scare her away! I still have a few nerves when I teach, though. It's not nervousness that I don't know what I'm talking about or what I'm doing - I definitely do. I think it's more that I'm a strong introvert, more used to listening than being the center of attention. Teaching takes a different kind of energy than I'm used to. I want to keep at it until it feels comfortable to me.

What's really not being comfortable for me right now, though, are the hard plastic deck chairs in the room where we meditate. My back is still very sensitive. When I meditate at home I sit on a soft cushy couch with multiple soft pillows behind my back. (I have been sitting on an exercise ball at work, which takes pressure off my back and helps a lot). Yesterday I took one of those big cushions with arms into the meditation room, set it against the wall, and sat on the floor with a pillow under my butt. I still couldn't get comfortable! I couldn't meditate. Lying on the floor isn't good, either. Anything hard against my back hurts.

I have one more idea. If I could bring some sort of soft cushion to lie on, I might be able to meditate on the floor in Savasana. I do have such a cushion, a twin matress topper, that just might work. As long as I can carry it tucked under one arm. I draw the line at carrying multiple armloads of cushions and pillows, as I end up just feeling silly. I can meditate perfectly well at home, though I do like meditating with other people, so I hope this works out for me.


My schedule has been a bit wonky the past couple of weeks, leading me to need to get to work a bit earlier. As a result, I have stopped my morning pranayama practice. I am not a morning person; I find it difficult to get going in the morning. The past couple of weeks it has been particularly difficult to get going. Well, this morning I did a bit of energizing pranayama, and what a difference it made! I hadn't realized how much my morning breathing practice was helping me to be awake and happy in the mornings until I stopped. It may make me an extra 15 minutes later to work in the mornings, but if I can afford it, that extra 15 minutes is really worth it.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Second pranayama class

I was able to find an hour to meditate the evening that I wrote my last post.  Meditation really does make everything feel better. 

I have also decided to add Alternate Nostril Breathing to each of my pranayama sessions. It's supposed to balance the right and left halves of the brain, so maybe it will balance my moods, as well. And, for now at least, I'm not performing the bedtime internal retention pranayama. I think I need a rest from it for now; I'll try it again later. Hey, I made it 10 days.

This evening I teach the second of my classes on pranayama. Last month I taught Pranayamas for Cleansing and Energizing.  Tonight I'm teaching Pranayamas For Calming. My source material for today's class is almost exclusively B.K.S. Iyengar's Light On Pranayama. I love the precise, detailed style of his writing.  Occasionally he spices the text with metaphorical description, such as this gem: “As a jug is filled from the bottom to the top, so fill the lungs from their base to the brim.” I am very reminded of the style my massage textbook, which asked the masseur to “knead, as a baker kneads dough (J.H. Kellogg, 1903).” 

During the meditation following last month's class on energizing pranayamas, I found myself battling thoughts and emotions, and never felt the nice drifty meditation space. I also heard from one other person that she had trouble sleeping that night. That makes sense, since the pranayamas we did that evening were pretty focused on pumping the solar plexus; we probably stirred some stuff up.  Good to know. The next time I teach I won’t do as many of the energizing exercises all in one night, but end with several calming pranayamas.

My meditation after today’s class focusing on stress-relieving pranayamas will hopefully be more peaceful.

Monday, March 16, 2009

A lot of breathing

My pranayama practice has fallen into a nice pattern recently. In the morning, if I wake up early enough, I do several cleansing pranayamas: Kapalibhati, Nasal Cleansing Breath, Dog Pant Breath, sometimes Breath of Fire. These raise energy and heat, and cleanse the system. They take about 15 minutes to do. It's a nice way to start the day.

After work I study the pranayamas I am planning to teach at my next class (I'm gearing up for a class this week). Right now these tend to be calming pranayamas, as I taught energizing ones last month. I usually spend 20 to 30 minutes doing this.

For the past 10 days I have been performing a pranyama from the Kundalini tradition before bed. It's basically a breath retention after an inhale, combined with the mantras Sa-Ta-Na-Ma and Wahay-Guru. This one I do for 11 minutes. It helps me fall asleep.

That's a lot of breath work. A lot of spiritual movement. I've heard that when you do a lot of meditation or spiritual work, one thing that happens is that you pump energy into the personality. You become more of who you are. After a while this effect calms down as you become more able to handle the increased energy.

Who I am is an emotional person who sometimes had mood swings. Over the seven years I have been meditating and doing spiritual work, my mood swings have stabilized a whole lot, and the peaks and valleys of my emotions have evened out. I am much calmer, more even-tempered, more consistently happy than I was before.

The past week, though, I've noticed my emotions being a bit more intense than they had been, and I've definitely noticed an increase in mood swings. I know this will pass as my capacity increases. But right now it's uncomfortable. The Kundalini practice, in particular, is pretty intense. I had decided to do it for 40 days, but I'm starting to wonder if maybe I should back off for now and try again later.

Edit: There is another reason why I might be feeling moody and emotional right now. A beloved cat died this time of year a year ago. I’ve heard that people often get emotional around a death anniversary.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Creating space

Since I moved into my house three-and-a-half years ago, I have been doing my yoga practice in the living room, because that is where there is the most space cleared, and the room is fairly peaceful. But recently I have been getting a strong urge to create a meditation/yoga space in my study. While the living room is nice, and my partner doesn't mind letting me have the space when I do my practice, it is still a shared space. It would be nice to concentrate the energy of my practice in a more private space.

The problem has always been that my room has been cluttered and filled with cheap, mismatched furniture. There hasn't been enough room to do my yoga there, and even if I cleared space, the feeling created by the mismatched furniture and little nick-nacks scattered about is too chaotic and cluttered for me to feel comfortable doing my practice there. My current plan is to clear the clutter and unify the decor to give the room a peaceful, zen feel. (I promise to post pictures when it's done. :-)

My back's flare-up a couple of weeks ago was actually the result of my starting to do some of the necessary organizing and redecorating. I had to drop this work due to the flare-up (and I mean that literally: I dropped piles of stuff in the middle of the floor). However, during my meditation marathon last Wednesday I realized I wouldn't actually have a whole lot more straightening to do to make the room workable.

So, last weekend, moving very slowly and gently, I cleared enough of the piles to feel comfortable with the space. I even put up a small altar as a focal point for my practice.

The only real way to get comfortable in the space, though, is to use it. Sunday evening I did my pranayama there, followed by an hour of meditation. It was nice and cozy. Unfortunately, though, I think my study just might be the loudest room in the house. You see, my house is situated about 400 feet from an Interstate and this room is on the side closest to the highway (the living room, by contrast, faces away from the highway, which really dampens the noise levels). I normally don't really notice the traffic sounds when I'm just hanging out in the room, but when I was trying to meditate they were quiet noticeable.

I made like a good yogi and tried to work the sound into my meditation, and I *was* successful in meditating. But it was still annoying. I think next time I will try meditating to music using headphones, instead of playing it through the stereo speakers. I could also try using ear plugs and tune into the inner sound. That's always good.

Even with the traffic noise, I had a really nice practice. It was nice to use that space. I am looking forward to feeling the energy shift as I use it regularly for my practice.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


My back has been having a bit of a flare-up recently. It was doing better and the pain had pretty much gone away, so a couple of weekends ago I ended up over-exerting it. I didn't do anything particularly strenuous, just straightening and organizing, and I put together one of those assemble-yourself particle board cabinets. But my muscles are sensitive, and even that was too much, and the pain returned. A week-and-a-half later and I'm still not back to where I was. It's very frustrating.

On top of that, work right now is in a place of transition, uncertainty, and lack of focus. I have finished up old tasks, and have yet to be brought into new ones, so I don't have a whole lot to do at the moment. I find blank days without clear tasks to be stressful.

How easy it is to start feeling sorry for myself. I try to keep a positive attitude, but, like so much in life, that takes practice and attentiveness. I realized a day to myself would help me regroup. So, since I have plenty of vacation time saved, I took a day off yesterday, stayed home, and meditated.

My goal was to spend most of the day studying my breathing practice and meditating. I flipped through Kundalini Yoga: The Flow of Eternal Power, which I recently bought. I can't do any of the moving kriyas right now, but I did find a couple of pranayama techniques to try. One that I particularly liked was basically breath retention after an inhale, combined with a mantra (Sa-Ta-Na-Ma).

After the breath work, I spent much of the afternoon in meditation (almost 3 hours, with breaks every hour). The pranayama must have stirred stuff up, because it wasn't until the third hour of meditation that I finally felt like I had a good meditation. Then I went to meditation class, where we meditated another 45 minutes!

After three-and-a-half hours I was definitely ready to be done meditating. But I got some clarity and peace about some things that came up. And I feel much, much better today. I have am so glad I gave myself that break. I needed it.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Clear sinuses

I have been keeping my pranayama practice for a month now. I started a month ago with a 15-minute practice, and now I am up to 30 minutes. The main effect I have noticed is that my sinuses are much clearer now than they were a month ago. Just two weeks ago I probably used eight or 10 tissues during a half-hour practice. This morning I used two. The Anunasika or Nasal Cleansing Breath is the pranayama that is most responsible for clearing my sinues.

This is very helpful for me, as I tend to have worse allergies during the winter when the furnace is running. I keep the air circulating all the time, and change the filters often, but even so I am prone to sinus infections.  

I am starting to feel some of the emotional and mental effects of pranayama as well.  I feel calmer, my mind clearer. It is easier to concentrate. I especially enjoy when I have time in the morning to practice before work.  It's a great way to clear my mind for the start of the day.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Meditation for back care

I'm in my fourth week of chiropractic care. I have discovered the secret to a successful chiropractic visit: meditate for 20 to 30 minutes before my appointment. Before my last visit, I reclined the seat in my car and meditated for half an hour before I went in.  On a previous visit, I put in my headphones and meditated in a chair in the waiting room for 20 minutes before she called me. Both times my chiropractor said my spine had good mobility, and that I was doing very well. Before I started meditating first, she commented that I was difficult to adjust because of my tight muscles. So from now on I'll try to get to work half an hour earlier than usual so that I can leave work early and meditate before my chiro appointments.

Meditation has also helped the pain, at least one time.  One day last week I was having a bad pain day. I took a long, hot bath, which usually helps, but this time the pain was still there even after the bath. I finally got myself to meditate for half an hour. During the meditation I concentrated on sending energy to the places that hurt, and after the meditation the pain was gone! I have experienced lessening of pain during a meditation (as well as an increase in pain), but I have never had pain go away entirely and remain gone after a meditation!

Meditation is turning out to serve as an indicator of my progress, as well. At the place where I meet other meditators for weekly meditation, we sit in hard plastic chairs--the kind that are often sold as deck furniture. I have gotten in the habit of bringing a small pillow to put under my lumbar spine to ease the pressure there. Even then, as my muscles relax during the hour-long meditation, I often find that I become aware that I am not sitting straight in the chair and need to adjust my position. And I feel a strong need to crack my neck and back. I know I shouldn't move during meditation, but I usually end up bending my neck to the side to crack it at least once during the hour. 

Last night I never felt the urge to crack my neck. Not once, either during or after the meditation. Halleluiah! I did feel the need to readjust my position once. Hopefully this need, too, will disappear if my chiropractor is able to correct the scoliosis in my spine. But it was lovely to lose track of time because I didn't feel the need to crack my spine.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Daily Pranayama practice

My Pranayama practice continues apace. I have fallen into a nice little 30-minute routine. I'm working from an old DVD called Pranayama For Health and Wellbeing, which sadly seems to be out of print. I have been focusing primarily on the cleansing Pranayamas included on the video. My routine varies somewhat, but generally runs as follows:

I start with about a 30-50 rounds (each breath is one round) of Kapalabhati, or Skull Shining Breath.

Then I do Breath of Fire through the right nostril, while keeping the left nostril closed, for three minutes. I follow this with Breath of Fire through the left nostril, keeping the right nostril closed, also for three minutes.

Finally I do about five minutes of Breath of Fire through both nostrils.

Note: Kapalabhati and Breath of Fire are similar, but not the same. In Kapalabhati the emphasis is on a strong exhale, and there is a passive inhale. The inhale and exhale do not need to be of the same length. In Breath of Fire the emphasis is on keeping the inhale and exhale of the same length.

Then I often do something the DVD calls Anunasika Pranayama. This consists of taking a deep breath, then blowing it out through the nostrils in a series of exhales until the lungs are empty. I do this six times through both nostrils, then six times through the right nostril only, then six times through the left nostril only, and finally six times through both nostrils. This one is very cleansing: I usually go through several tissues during it!

I follow this with Kukkura Pranayama, or the Dog Pant Breath. I do four sets of 20 rounds (breaths) each. Kneeling in Vajrasana, you put your hands on the floor in front of your knees, stick out your tongue, and pant from the abdomen.

Finally, I finish my practice with Nadi Shodhana, or Alternate Nostril Breathing.

I did this practice 4 days last week, and 5 the week before. I really feel drawn to the cleansing pranayamas right now. Firstly because I'm just getting back into a consistent pranayama practice, and I figure I need cleansing. But also because I tend to have more allergy problems in the winter, so anything that cleans out my sinuses is probably beneficial.

My back has been doing better. The pain is either non-existent or very manageble. However, I still have to take it very easy. I went shopping last Saturday afternoon and was pretty sore the next day. So as long as I take it easy I'm fine. While I miss my physical yoga practice, it is actually nice to have the time now to focus on a pranayama practice, which I had been wanting to do more of, anyway.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Teaching pranayama

A few weeks ago my meditation teacher handed us a schedule of the topics we'll be learning in the first hour of class before we meditate. We meet every Wednesday.

The first Wednesday of each month she will speak on Consciousness and Energy.
The second Wednesday of the month she will teach Taoist Techniques for Health.
The third Wednesday we'll learn Pranic Breathing Exercises.
The fourth Wednesday she will discuss Ancient Eastern Philosophy Text (possibly the Vedas?).
And when there is a fifth Wednesday, the topic will be Cosmic History and Extraterrestrial Meaning. (This one is a bit out there for me, but I promise to keep an open mind.)

This past Wednesday was the third Wednesday of the month. Now, I have done some teaching of pranayama techniques there before, when I've filled in for my teacher when she's had to miss the class for some reason or another. But she hadn't mentioned to me that I would be leading the class on scheduled Pranic Breathing days, and it would have been egotistical for me to assume that I would be teaching.

Well, what did she do but expect me to teach! I was so unprepared. Gah! At least there was only one other student there for the class this week. I floundered about for a bit trying to remember how to teach belly breath and three-part breath. Eventually I hit my stride and taught Breath of Fire, Skull-Brightener Breath, and Alternate Nostril Breathing. I went really deep in meditation after all that breathing!

So I guess it's official now: I'm a pranayama teacher. I guess I'd better finish reading Light on Pranayama pretty quick (I'm almost half-way through)!

Does anyone have any other pranayama text recommendations, from either the hatha or kundalini yoga traditions?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Forced inactivity

As it turns out, I apparently can't do even a minimal exercise regime right now. Last weekend I did an easy half hour on the elliptical. I tried not to use my arms at all, but kept them on the heart rate bar. I also did some light house cleaning--maybe an hour, cooked soup, and folded laundry. You know, day off stuff.

The next day, my traps and rhomboids were screaming---pain levels up to 5 on a 1-10 scale. Not good.

I know when I'm beat. I have to lay off physical activity for a while, until my back muscles heal (the chiropractor confirmed that this is all muscular, not nerve pain). Who knows how long it will take: a few weeks? A month? Two months? I truly hope it is less than two months. I'm addicted to exercise. And being handicapped in my normal day-to-day tasks, too, drives me crazy.

It is easy to get discouraged, to whine and complain. But I know of three people who are dealing with health issues worse than mine. How can I complain of my own suffering when their suffering is worse than my own?

But I can do my practice. I try to keep my thoughts centered on surrender. On letting the pain and frustration pass through me like clouds, like rain, like breath. I turn the inner eye to watch them pass. I breathe, and ask for the path of surrender. I meditate, and ask only to witness, but not identify with the suffering. I remain mindful of my friends as well, as I practice. As I breathe and ask for non-attachment to the ephemeral, I hope that my friends, too, can find this.

I can only do what I do. I am finding my pranayama and meditation practice to help me not only in the spiritual way I just described, but in other ways as well. The work does help physically relax the muscles and reduce pain. Also, by providing another point of focus for my body, I distract it from the pain. Finally, keeping this practice gives my mind and energy something to focus on that isn't related to my physical problems. It helps fill the gap in my life that my asana practice used to fill.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Pranayama practice

I am finding it harder to stick to a very minimal exercise regime than I had anticipated. If I don't regularly do at least some cardio (I have an elliptical machine) and a few stretches, I'm restless and can't sleep. But if I do too much my back complains later...and wakes me up in the middle of the night. Of course I feel fine when I'm warm and exercising; the pain only makes itself known hours later. Add to that the fact that having two chiropractic appointments, and one massage, a week adds cuts into my normal evening exercise/yoga time. I haven't yet figured out exactly what works best to both keep my back safe and bring me restful sleep, nor when best to work a practice into my new schedule. It is frustrating. Things will be easier for me once my chiropractor feels I have progressed to a point where she can prescribe exercises for me to do.

What I have been able to do successfully is delve into a pranayama practice. B.K.S. Iyengar's Light on Pranayama was my Christmas gift to myself from the store where I attend meditation classes. I'm about a third of the way through. So far he's discussing the Hindu philosphy of prana: laying the groundwork. I have yet to get into the discussion of specific pranayamas.

However, as I do have prior knowledge of pranayama, either taught to me by my meditation teacher or picked up from various yoga books, I have put together a short practice for myself. I'm sort of making it up as I go, but basically doing Breath of Fire, Alternate Nostril Breathing, and working on the upper two locks: jalandhara bandha (chin lock) and uddiyana bandha (abdominal lock). The entire practice so far is lasting about 15 minutes, but I will probably lengthen it as I get used to the practice, and as time permits.

When I have time, I follow this practice with a 30-40 minute meditation. I have found the combination of the pranayama practice followed by the meditation to allow me to sleep through the night.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The path of surrender

I am finding that the body work I am undergoing now--chiropractic and deep tissue massage--is releasing stored past memories and pain. To heal fully, I must allow these memories and feelings to come pass through me. I must surrender to the process as it unfolds.

My practice last night was simple: a few minutes of pranayama followed by a 40 minute meditation. During the meditation I petitioned to accept the path of surrender.

Surrender to the physical pain, the forced inactivity, the emotional pain, and the memories. I must be open to the experiences as they happen, then allow them to drift away like clouds, like thoughts that arise in meditation...not to be followed or held onto, but simply experienced as they come, and then released.

I slept well last night. Today I feel more grounded emotionally, though I still need a heating pad to help with the physical.

Monday, January 12, 2009


As I lay in my bed last night, propped up on pillows because when I lay on my back the pressure on my spine impinged a nerve, making my hands go numb, I couldn't help feeling very sorry for myself. I want more than anything to able to do an hour-long hatha yoga practice. I want to get that good workout feeling, feeling cleansed and refreshed. I have been dedicated in my practice for over a year, building it slowly and steadily. And yet, it seems that I have been blocked again and again by my body's recurrent problems and limitations.

But I stop and remind myself that my current back problems arose out of the positive changes I have made this year: getting really good shoe orthotics to treat recurrent plantar fasciitis, exercising, yoga--these have uncovered congenital problems, including scoliosis, that have lain dormant until now.
"The pathways [of nourishment and elimination] must be clear of obstructing forces in order for prana [nourishment] and apana [elimination] to have a healthy relationship.  In yogic language, this region must be in a state of sukha, with literally translates as "good space."  "Bad space" is referred to as dukha; which is commonly translated as "suffering." - Leslie Kaminoff, in Yoga Anatomy

Perhaps my current back problems are a necessary cleansing, creating space for more expansion, for growth, for something new to take its place. It may feel now like an obstacle to  my practice and to the exercise that I crave. But perhaps this is a necessary pause, a time when pulling back is necessary for future growth. A blockage to the flow of prana must be cleared out of the way before further expansion and growth can take place.

I have come through many obstacles in my life, some of which have seemed truly insurmountable. I have moved through them and been happier, stronger, on the other side. I have looked back and been amazed and grateful for the changes that have taken place. If I reframe this time to be a necessary period of cleansing and clearing, perhaps it will be easier to get through to the other side. Though it may not look like it at this moment, I keep telling myself that this, too, is a time I will look back on in wonder and gratitude for the gifts it has brought me.
The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

-- Jelaluddin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks

Friday, January 9, 2009

First chiropractic appointment

My chiro appointment went very well. Dr. K is super sweet and attentive. Her intake discussion with me was very detailed.  She had an intake questionnaire for me to indicate what activities my back pain interferes with.  Mostly the pain isn't bad enough to interfere with my daily activities, but I did indicate I can have trouble lying on my back (I haven’t been able to do Savasana for a couple of months). I also noted that I’m unable to twist without pain.  One of the muscle groups that is currently spasming (the serratus posterior) is involved in twisting the spine.  I explained that practice yoga, yoga has a lot of twisting, I have had to stop doing all twists because of my injury, and I miss it.  I think she was bemused/amused by my complaint. I'm sure it's not often a client's major complaint is that they can't twist!


During her examination, she found good mobility in my spine except for T5-T9, right there in my mid-back. Apparently I have a golf-ball-sized knot of very spasmed muscle just to the right of the spine in that region. She seemed concerned that it may have been there for "some time", and was starting to form scar tissue.  Goody.


She did a quick spinal adjustment, then gave me electrical stimulation to try to release the muscle spasm. Electrodes went above and below the knot, and she covered the whole area with a hot pad. The stim felt tingly, odd, and slightly unpleasant. The treatment probably lasted 10 minutes.


She decided on twice weekly treatments for 4-6 weeks that will include manipulation, heat, and muscle stim. She also wrote a scrip for weekly massage for the same length of time, which will be covered by insurance.  I'll have to see if my current MT is set up to take insurance. My guess is she's not, in which case I'll get massages at the chiro clinic after my treatment.


For home therapy self-care, I'm supposed to apply moist heat for about 20 minutes twice a day. No more ice. I can either take a hot shower, hot bath, or use a moist heating pad. I'm just tickled that I have a doctor's note to take a long hot shower every morning, and a hot bath every night!


I asked her if she was going to prescribe any PT exercises. She said not yet. She wants to see how I respond to her current treatment plan first, then add additional treatments if they don’t work. She says if she throws everything at me at once, she won’t know what has worked and what hasn’t. The scientific approach! As a scientist myself (geologist), I appreciate the application of the scientific method.


So where does that leave my yoga practice? She. Dr. K said she never tells someone who has an active exercise program to stop; basically left it up to me.  My practice has dwindled down to little more than stretches and PT exercises for the past month or two anyway. I think I’ll keep doing some stretches on my limbs, and maybe neck stretches, but cut out anything that focuses on the back or abs for the time being.  Maybe this is a time to focus my practice on pranayama and meditation instead of asana.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Gathering energy for healing

I attend free weekly meditation classes at a local bookstore. The first hour of the class a teaching, usually lecture or discussion, but sometimes instruction in a spiritual technique or guided meditation. Then we meditate together for the second hour. 

This week my meditation teacher talked about using the exchange of energy with the people around us for our own healing and growth. Every day, we experience an exchange of energy with the people who surround us and those we interact with. For example, I may encounter someone happy, or depressed, or anxious, and find that I in turn may react to the energy this person is giving off.

I have choices in how I will let that energy affect me. I may find I also begin to feel happy, depressed, or anxious in concert with the other person. Or I can resist it. If I'm in a good mood, and encounter someone who isn't, I'll probably resist having my mood pulled down because I don't want to feel sad or anxious.

My teacher suggested a third choice:  to ask that this energy I am feeling, intersecting with, be experienced by me for my own healing and growth.  Energy is just energy, right? Prana. By simply asking that the energy of the interaction be transmuted to my own healing, I can use that energy I am already experiencing simply by being near or interacting with this person for my own health. And by the energy being transmuted, the other person also gets a benefit as that energy goes out to interact with their own prana. They will usually feel calmer and more peaceful themselves.

I have felt the effects of this myself as my meditation teacher moves the energy of the class through her body. Often in class I will find myself go from feeling emotional or anxious to feeling grounded and calm, and I'll realize my teacher has begun working with the energy of the class. I realize I feel better and I'm better able to understand the concepts she's discussing.

When it came time for us to meditate, I tried it out. I have been having a lot of back problems recently, and one muscle in my middle back on the right side (serratus posterior inferior) still hurts from when I strained it over a month ago. As I felt the energy of the meditation begin to flow through me, I asked for healing for my back, and this muscle in particular. I pictured my back as whole and healthy. Throughout the meditation I continued to send energy there.

The resulting experience wasn't entirely pleasant. I became keenly aware of the areas of pain all up and down my right side, from my ankle to my scalp (yes, I have pain in all the diodes down my right side). The sensation was one of coolness, and was very much within the body, not on my skin.

My back does feel better today though. I have also made (after much procrastination on my part) an appointment with a chiropractor for tonight, which will be followed by a massage appointment. It's always good to include physical methods of healing along with the spiritual. I'm sure my back is on the mend.

Anyway, my intension is to remember to ask for the energy around me to be used for my transmutation and healing during my interactions over the next week.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Home practice

Nona of Everyday Yogini recently posted about her experiences in starting and keeping up a home practice. I decided that was a good topic to start off my own yoga blog.

I'd kept an intermittent home practice for several years now, but found it difficult to keep it going through busy times or after a break such as an illness. A year ago I made a commitment to practice more consistently. To help me track my progress, I began keeping a log of my practice. Over the past year my home practice has become part of my life, and I've been able to practice an average of 4-6 days a week.

My primary reasons for keeping a home practice are practical: time and money, especially time. Three years ago I moved to an old country farmhouse about 30 miles outside the city where I work. Depending on normal traffic levels, my commute to work--or anything else--in the city takes between 35 and 50 minutes. I honestly hate the thought of adding the extra driving it would take to go to a yoga studio, or (worse yet) waiting around in town after work for an evening class. (Though I have continued to attend a meditation class after work once a week, which I love.) Also, when I started my home practice a year ago I was very low on money, and trying to save for a new car. I couldn't really justify the cost of a class at the time, though I'm in better shape financially now.

Another reason I had for focusing on a home practice instead of classes was that I was coming back from an injury to my shoulder and had to be very slow and careful with myself. There was no way I could do chaturangas like I used to do in class. I know now, though I wasn't aware of it at the time, that I was experiencing the beginnings of osteoarthritis. This past year I have come to terms with having arthritis, and have slowly learned how to manage my symptoms with exercise, diet, and supplements. Easing myself into a yoga practice, starting back at a beginner level, slowly building my strength, and backing off when I needed to has been a large part of learning to live with arthritis. Had I tried to follow along with a class I'm certain I would have injured myself, or at the very least become frustrated that I couldn't keep up with my fellow students.

Practicing at home, I have been much more able to listen to my body and go at my own pace. I have mostly practiced along with DVD's, switching them up to add variety to the practice. NetFlix has been a wonderful aid in helping me audition different videos and find what I like best.

Now that I've been practicing for a year, I know enough to be more self-directed in my practice. Listening to what my body's needs are, I find I can focus on those areas that want the exercise, and modify or eliminate those poses that would stress whatever part of my body is having trouble at the time. I'm finding that sometimes I forgo the DVDs altogether, and simply focus on the poses that I feel drawn to at that time.

One of my new year's resolutions this year is to aim for increasing my practice to an average of 6-7 days a week. (The other resolution is to start keeping this blog.) I would like at some point to start taking weekly classes again, but I definitely won't be giving up my home practice.