Reflections After One Month of a 6-Day Ashtanga Yoga Practice

sarah li cain -mumbled jumbles -reflections

I don’t know what made me do it, but a voice inside my head one day literally told that that this was a good idea.  To be honest, I had no excuses why I couldn’t. I know I had the time to spare.

I’ve wanted to further my Ashtanga yoga practice for a while now. Heck, I read enough blogs that talk about it! I remember looking all the Sanskrit names of random poses or theories and wanted to learn more. Maybe it was one of those things where if I wanted to talk the talk, I should learn how to walk the walk. So every morning, except for Saturdays and moon days, I dutifully rolled out my mat and practiced.

I started off by doing a shorter version of the primary series using David Swenson’s awesome DVD for about two weeks. After practicing with this DVD on and off for almost a year now, I had the nagging feeling that I was moving beyond the DVD.  I don’t want to say that the routine was too easy. Rather, I wanted to explore more poses and didn’t want to get too comfortable with someone doing the breath count for me. I found myself getting easily distracted because in the back of my mind, if I lose count, the DVD was there to do it for me.

I’m loving the self guided practice so far. I’ve been religiously looking over David’s Swenson’s practice manual on the poses and pouring over youtube videos. I think I am doing well so far despite the fact that I do not have a teacher helping me. I’m not saying it has been easy. In fact, quite the opposite. There have been days where I absolutely refused to get on the mat, but I did. There were a few times where I’ve lost count, or forget how to do a pose that I’m familiar with, or  what I had to do next. Those are the days I struggle and have to compose myself until I get to the end of my asana practice.

A month isn’t a long time, but I find that I’m getting more courageous by the day. I either try to go deeper into a pose or want to add another one. I get up earlier. I even do more off the mat. I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching this past month and have finally pushed myself to do something I’ve been hesitant to do. And that’s a very exciting prospect. If I feel this way after a month, I wonder what other things will start to unfold a few weeks, months, or years from now?

I know the next step for me is to find a teacher. Maybe even a mentor, on and off the mat. I know at some point I will stall or hold myself back. I have a feeling I’ll need someone to push me towards something bigger and greater. I want to grow. I want to improve. One step at a time, I guess. One step at a time.

Photography and Yoga Part 2

Ever since I wrote a post about how photography and yoga are similar, I’ve been thinking about writing more in this topic for a while. True to form, my short term memory kicked in and obviously forgot it for a while. Also true to form, my memory comes at the weirdest times and luckily I only shouted when I was by myself when I exclaimed said that I should really write another post for this topic.

I’ve covered some of the mental/spiritual side of photography and yoga, and I was thinking if there are any commonalities between asanas and photography.  Then I thought of an article I read ages ago about ‘funny’ photographer poses.  Now I have ventured far and wide in the past to get  a good photo, and quite possibly squatted or looked weird when trying to capture a scene. I can safely say though, that I never stood/squatted/sat taking a photo that resembled anything like yoga poses graced in the likes of Yoga Journal.

Well go ahead, decide for yourself if the following poses some photographers get into look like asanas you and I might be practicing.

Yin Yoga Dragonfly Pose

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Goddess Pose


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Happy Valentine’s Day

sarah li cain-mumbled jumbles-happy valentines day

To be honest, I’m not really fond of this ‘holiday’ because of all the commercialism surrounding it (kind of like Christmas, but I’ll save that for another time).  My husband likes to take me out for a meal, but please please please, don’t give me an over-sized teddy bear or a box of chocolates (I’m kind of allergic to it anyway).

The reason I’m writing this is to celebrate love of all forms, romantic and platonic.  I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on how grateful I am for the awesome people in my life, who have either come and gone. Most definitely my husband.  I know many people say this about their spouses, but he is definitely the most wonderful, caring and supportive person I know. He knows what to say during rough times and laughs at the good times. I feel very fortunate to have met him.

I am also grateful for all the friends who have stuck by and told me the truth, especially when I didn’t feel like hearing it. I am lucky that my mom is so supportive and has loved me unconditionally, knowing that at times I probably didn’t deserve her love.

I am also grateful to yoga (can you love a non-tangible being?) and all the lessons it has taught me so far. I’ve committed myself to a 6 day practice and I cannot believe the changes that have happened despite it only being a month since I’ve done so.

Have yourself a happy Valentine’s Day, however you choose to celebrate it.

Who do you love? What are you grateful for?

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Can Yoga Transend Barriers?

It wasn’t easy finding quality yoga instruction when I was in Shenzhen. By that I meant that it was close to impossible to find a teacher who spoke English. When I started practicing regularly 4 years ago, I wasn’t totally bought into the practice. I went to a nice studio, but I felt quite alienated because my Chinese speaking skills were pretty much non-existent. I’d always be at the back of the room, and look at the instructor and those around me to figure out what poses to maneuver into next. I had a sciatic nerve issue once and I was too scared to try and ask how to modify poses to prevent further straining it. Did I breathe ‘properly’ during vinyasa classes? Heck no! I’d go to a class, sweat for a an hour, rush to the showers, and leave as fast as I could. Even the 5 minutes of waiting before the classes was a chore. Add to the fact that many of the patrons that frequent this place were all staring at everyone one else, like they were competing to see who was the best at yoga. Many come in these haute couture yoga outfits, and I swear these two ladies were going to have it out one day because they happen to sit beside one another and they wore the same outfit.

I kept going back because I wanted to be active, and I paid a lot of money for a two year membership (kind of stupid in retrospect, I know).

Don’t get me wrong, the instructors were always friendly to me, but it was hard to connect in any way because of the language barriers, or so I thought.

Her name is 李杭生 (Shanti). I never once addressed her by her name.

Enter the teacher above. I went to about two of her classes before she tried to talk to me. I remember having to sit at the front of the class (sacrilege!) and she tried to ask me how long I’ve been doing yoga. Luckily there was a nice lady who spoke some English to translate.  I remember feeling really embarrassed over the whole thing. I did the usual, rush out of class and back home as quickly as I can.

One Sunday, I signed up for another one of her early morning classes.  I did what I usually do and sat at the back. She enters and closes the door. We both realize then and there that I was the only student there that showed up for the class! She must have remembered me because she smiled and motioned for me to pick a mat at the front of the room. I would have loved then and there to bolt out of the room, but I’m sure I would never be able to show up at this place again if I had done that.  We sit down and she tries to talk to me. I try to reply in English.

Then, a miracle of sorts happened. She started breathing in and out, and motions for me to do so. We breathe in silence for a bit. Then she starts inhaling and says “inhale”, both in English and Chinese. She does the same when she exhales.  Instead of sitting at her usual spot, she sits at the mat beside me and motions for me to look at her. She demonstrates the pose she wants to teach me and shows when to inhale and exhale. I do the same.  If I didn’t need any modifications, she does a thumbs up and smiles. If I didn’t do something correctly, she does the pose again until I do it ‘correctly’. At the end of the class we sat and chanted ‘om’ three times together.

Instead of rushing out, I bowed and said thank you in Chinese and she said it back to me in English.

In subsequent classes, she always had a full room, but made sure to stop by me and check I was doing my poses correctly. I learned to breathe properly because I learned what those words were in Chinese.

She was one of the first locals that I was able to connect with and made my time in China easier. And I am very grateful for that.

If you are ever in Shenzhen, she now teaches at Hotz Yoga. They apparently have instructors that speak English now.

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The Power of Listening

sarah li cain-mumbled jumbles-the power of listening
Mom, I look like a pretzel!

Last week (after reading an article about it and kind of obsessing about it, I’ll admit) I entered the lotus pose during the final Ashtanga postures.  I’ve tried before but my ankle ended up hurting, or I could feel my leg bone digging into the opposite thigh.  This time, as the DVD started to describe ‘bound lotus’, a voice inside my head just told me “Try it today. You read that article, Visualize how you will enter it and just do it. It’ll work.” I almost felt like I was outside myself looking down as I did it. I was quite elated and surprised afterward. I realize that every time I enter a new pose or go deeper into one (or without any modifications), that voice calls out.  I don’t know what to call it. Intuition? The mind and body connecting? Some higher power in the universe telling this to me? Either way I listen and I receive.  I focus, imagine, bring myself to the present moment and magic happens.

Listening is a powerful skill that sadly people don’t practice too much of these days. They may hear, but to listen is also to receive what you are given. I think that listening to oneself is the hardest of all. What if you are denying the truth because you don’t want to deal with the emotions that come with it? What if you don’t want to admit fault? Or are simply just scared?

But the thing is, listening has numerous benefits. It helps you improve, move on with your life, grow.  How can you learn if you don’t listen to your teachers, your peers? How can you know if your health (mental and physical) is good if you don’t listen to yourself?

Listen and you shall receive.

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Moving Forward

I’ll admit, I was emotional this morning. I had shed a few tears, overwhelmed by something I don’t really know. In the past I would have used this as an excuse to not do any yoga and allow myself to wallow in the depths of my sadness, or whatever it was. Today I didn’t. I let myself sit and breathe, shed the tears, roll out the mat and tried my best to put my distracting thoughts away for the hour I was practicing. After savasana (corpse pose), I felt better. I even concentrated with my full heart hearing the closing prayer today.  I was immediately proud of myself. Why? Well because I feel like I’ve grown after this one practice. I didn’t let myself use any excuse to stop myself from doing something that benefited me. I sucked it up and got over myself. Even in times of sadness and turmoil, people need to pick themselves whenever and wherever they can and try to live life.

Afterwards, I watched a cool Kino video and read an article about David Swenson and his journey into yoga.  What I got from both posts was that yoga will find you, and when you are ready, things will come.  I’ve been practicing on and off for a few years now, and am now finally falling in love with Ashtanga yoga.  I would love to dwell on the past and what I could have done to get to where I am now, in terms of my practice and life in general. But I have to focus on the present and move forward. Don’t have doubt. The answers are there when I am ready for them.

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