Thursday, March 3, 2011

Catching Up...

Whoops... I had all these great blogging plans, and then this week seriously got away from me.  Had some rather urgent family business come up, the kind that involves long drives across state lines in the middle of the night.  To make a long story short, my 92-year-old grandfather is now recovering after a successful surgery, so everything seems to have turned out okay.  (Knock on wood.)

But back to this little blog - I'm finally caught up on everything (rent is paid, schedule is back to normal, washing machine is running, house is clean, chili is cooking in the crock pot) and I have been itching to write for days now.

First order of business: Chicago!  Assuming that no more emergencies arise in the next few weeks, I am going to Chicago for the weekend of March 19th.  I'm not mentioning this because I think you ought to stalk me.  (Don't be silly.)  I mention this because I am going to a yoga seminar with the one-and-only Diane Ducharme, and if you're in the neighborhood, you really should show up.  Her seminars are awesome, trust me.  More info is online at Bikram Yoga in the City.  (And no, I'm not likely to be teaching while I'm there - this is just a quick trip and I am going purely as a student.  Exciting for me!!)

Second order of business:  Blog comments!  I received some really insightful comments on my last blog post, the one about requiring "proof" for the benefits of a yoga practice.  Basically, my readers have been keeping things interesting even in my absence.  So if you haven't been reading comments, go and check them out!  It's never too late to join in the conversation.  It's been giving me a lot of ideas, including a gem of an idea for a new kind of Bikram yoga website.  After an initial spurt of manic excitement, I am thinking carefully about a couple of different projects, and I may bounce some ideas off all of you later....

And finally, my personal 30 day reading challenge is looking more like a ?? day challenge, but it is still on!  Yesterday I finished chapter 2, and now I am on page 139 (out of 594)!  Progress!  I am still shooting for 20 pages a day from here on, but not every single day.  (For example, when I take my trip to Chicago later this month, I'm not going to sacrifice time from my yoga weekend extravaganza to plow through a big heavy book!)  So now I give you:

?? Day Reading Challenge:  Day 10

I've finished the first two chapters!  Hurrah for me!

The first chapter is about "Movement and Posture."  It goes through a lot of technical anatomy terms, which would have been tedious reading if I didn't already have a solid foundation from the anatomy course at teacher training.  That was a seriously good course; Dr. Preddy knows his stuff!  There was some new-for-me material, though.  I finally understand the difference between concentric shortening and eccentric lengthening, though I'm not sure whether this will help me much in my day-to-day life.  It helps me understand anatomy textbooks, though.  (CliffNotes summary: Concentric = going UP the stairs.  Eccentric = going DOWN the stairs.)  The most interesting bit for me was probably the section on reflexes.  If you want to understand why you can stretch your muscles with a slow, steady pull, but NOT with bouncing and jerking, this is the section for you.

As far as the concepts about stretching, posture, and gravity are concerned, I found all of the conclusions pretty familiar and intuitive.  That's because I've read this kind of thing before and I have a lot of experience working with my body.  But the text gives enough detailed and rigorous information to satisfy the most curious questioner, and it's cool to understand the hidden mechanics behind familiar processes.

The author also has a tendency to editorialize, which is one of my favorite parts.  I feel like I'm reading Nabokov sometimes.  (Pale Fire, anyone?)  I really liked a section on page 29-30, where the author's [technical notes] go on for a full page and get gradually more and more tangential.  His last note is pretty far from the main point of the passage, but it's a really great point:

"If your complaint is that you can't understand a particular concept and do not feel competent to criticize it, don't assume that the problem is your own lack of intelligence or scientific background.  More than likely, the idea wasn't presented in a straightforward manner, and it usually happens that this masks one or more fatals flaws in the putative reasoning.  One dependable test of a concept is whether you can convincingly explain it, along with the mechanics of how it operates, to a third party.  If you find yourself getting your explanation garbled, or if your listener does not comprehend your argument or is unpersuaded, please examine and research the idea more critically."

Okay, so he did use the word "putative," which I had to look up (putative, adj, commonly accepted or supposed), but overall this is a fantastically clear point which I support 100%.  The "third party test" is a great test for any idea, whether it's a scientific point or a business plan.  (The business plan test says that that if you can't explain the purpose of your business to a third party in one sentence, you don't really have a plan.)

Returning to our immediate concerns: like in any good yoga anatomy book, chapter one is about posture and chapter two is about "Breathing."  This was a pretty cool chapter.  It includes a lot of suggestions for self-experimentation, and I was too lazy to get up and do any of the experiments because I was too busy lounging.  If I every get motivated, I will probably go back through this chapter and try some of these breathing experiments, instead of just conceptualizing and looking at the pictures.

The chapter does a good job explaining about the different lung volumes and capacities.  I still have to double-check the terminology as I read, but the main take-away point is that you never breathe your total lung capacity in and out (some air stays in your lungs so they don't collapse), and you rarely breathe your full vital capacity.  In normal breathing, your lungs are never completely full or completely empty, which is totally normal and fine, but it means that there is a lot of room for manipulation when you start doing yogic breathing exercises.

There's also a ton of stuff about the different anatomical ways of breathing: chest breathing, belly breathing and everything in between.  (There is a whole lot of middle ground.)  That's putting it very loosely.  I could relate a lot of it to my understanding of pranayama breathing, and kapalabhati is discussed specifically.

My favorite "practical" advice is nestled in between various technical discussions: "Rushing yourself or someone else into developing new breathing habits will only create anxiety and disrupt rather than benefit the nervous system (pg 120)" and "the poses themselves correct bad habits (pg 113)."

Now I think I have just enough time to read another 20 pages before going to take class at 7pm.  More later!

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