Monday, May 25, 2009

Some Random Notes from Yoga Training

Today's our day off, mid-training. Slept in. Went down to breakfast in PJ's (very modest, I assure you.) Ate my way around the breakfast buffet. First, bagel and cream cheese with jam. Then, a bit of scrambled eggs and three slices of cantaloupe. Then, a spoonful of grits. (They so know how to cook grits and oatmeal at this place. Maybe cooking grits for forty people at a time is easier than cooking grits for one?) And amazing, strong, rich coffee.


After lunch, I went up to my room and organized my presentation of my third and probably last case study of the module, which is first thing Tuesday morning. Then I cleaned out my book bag, organized my pile of papers, and took a shower. Walked over to the yoga studio and did my practice. Then, lunch of vegetable soup and off to Walmart's for a re-supply of Hershey's miniatures, some Tootsie Roll pops, Triscuits (last eaten when I was in high school and still as salty and crunchy and buttery as I recall), some hair stuff and a lipstick, and a copy of the second book in Charlene Harris' vampire series. Not necessarily what I was looking for (though I did read the first book and liked it, but tried another from later in the series and not so much).

But it was slim pickins at Walmart: a whole wall of the Twilight series (I have nothing against young adult books but this one made me feel Very Old), lots of Jodi Picoult titles, bestsellers all in the Woman Wronged or Woman Has Very Bad Thing Happen to Her categories, or plenty o' romance novels). And orange juice! And fresh strawberries! And a few oranges to put aside for another day. (Not sure why I was on an orange binge, but we don't get much juice here and the fruit has been apples or bananas.)


Came back. Doled out a box of strawberries to a colleague, served up some juice, and now I've been lying on my bed reading Laurie R. King's A Monstrous Regiment of Women while the sun moves across the quilt. And I ate three strawberries, two Triscuits, a Tootside Roll pop, and two glasses of OJ. Here are some random, non-food thoughts, if you've stuck with the post this long. These range from random to serious, with no priority to the order:


  • garter stitch is exactly the right knitting to work on when you are stopping and starting five or six times a day. Though also somewhat boring and taking a long long time to look like anything, since I'm working on a garter stitch shawl with ruffle (the adaptation of the Peddler's Shawl that's been done in Rowan Felted Tweed) in Silky Wool.
  • I wish that I had a set of interchangeable needles. I have Malabrigo along but brought the wrong size needle, and Walmart had naught but two sizes of crochet needles.
  • I am learning a lot. But the theme, experienced in India, of thinking that you get it, only to have the whole process turned upside down, continues. The senior teacher kept telling us that we are giving too much physical yoga and not enough breathing, that we are not considering the ages of our students when designing a practice, more relaxation and less concern with strength. Until we started asking the presenter, during the Q and A, if she had considered giving more of a practice for relaxation instead of strength, or if the student is not too old to be given such a demanding physical practice. Then he greeted the next presentation with praise for the physical poses given to the student.
  • we laugh a lot. And talk a lot. The personal transformations of this group are incredible. This yoga thing really works. People with no self-confidence now are confident. People who were overly serious are now smiling and acting silly. People who were shy are now sociable. People who were smug are now humble. Not all the time, and not completely. But it's as if each of us had the edges sanded off, and what is left is a lot more enjoyable and interesting to be around.
  • I'll try to do more of a thoughtful yoga post in the next day or so. Right now, going to keep reading my mystery, eat some dinner, and maybe go to sleep about 8 o'clock.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Hat #3 and a Very Good Dog

Hat #3 of 4. Another Turn a Square, again Cascade 220 wool and Noro Silk Garden. This one was worked with a cast on of 82 stitches for the ribbing, then I increased 8 stitches to a total of 90 for the body of the hat. I started the raglan decreases when the hat measured 5 inches from ribbing to last row worked. I think that this is the magic formula for a woman's hat. It's stretchy and will fit up to a size medium. For a woman's large or a man's hat, I'd stick with the specs from the original pattern, except that I'd tighten up the ribbing a bit and start with a cast on of 96 stitches. (Oops, I guess that's not staying with the specs.)
Below, a picture of my very happy dog. He is starting to mature just the tiniest bit, so that sometimes, in the evening, he will settle happily down on his dogbed and chew at a bone or, as he is now, asleep with that sweet look of a sleeping puppy. (And yes, babies are cuter, but I'm fresh out of them at the moment, though it is the day that my younger daughter was born, 24 years ago! And I had a student this morning whose daughter shares her birthday, but is two years older. Happy Birthday, M!)
Below, a flash in the distance, as he runs for a tennis ball in the backyard. Another sign of settling down: he let me read the Style and Arts and Leisure sections of the Times while he occupied himself, only occasionally coming by for twenty or thirty tosses of the tennis ball before lying down or wandering off to survey the squirrel population.
This is good to see, because we had a bad afternoon. Him more than me. I had finally finished errands and packing for my trip. We were taking a long walk through the neighborhood. Gorgeous weather: blue skies, a tiny bit of a breeze, lots of sun. And as we walked past a fenced-in yard with a black dog behind it, Parker went too close and the dog reached through a gap in the gate and bit him on the nose. There was enough blood to concern me and I asked the people behind the fence, starting their barbecue early, if you know what I mean, for something to clean him up with. Enough said that it took five minutes, or that's how it felt, for them to give me a few damp paper towels. And, in a move that always astonishes me, and in this case, I was already feeling a little shaky with surprise and with concern for my dog, they started yelling at me with that "lady...look here, your dog shouldn't have come up to the fence" thing that makes me want to do something very violent. Instead, I tried to stay calm. I walked him home the 15 blocks as quickly as possible, called the vet, and then took him over. No stitches, just a clean up, some pain pills, and an antibiotic. And since Parker has a current rabies shot, I don't have to try to find out if the attacking dog had a current rabies shot (that was my concern - that I might have to file a police report in order to get someone over there that these people might respect to find out if the dog had his shots.) Here's a shot of his nose:
Not to worry, though. He is fine. Ironic that after all the stories I've heard about aggressive dogs at the dog park that we go to, it's taking a Sunday afternoon walk that ends up drawing some blood.
I'm off to training for two weeks tomorrow - hope to be able to post once in a while during my trip. Otherwise, see you in June.


Friday, May 15, 2009

Small Victories

Small steps. That's how yoga works. The Sanskrit is krama: you begin on whatever step is right for you, and move up, slowly, consistently, with effort or abhyasa, with willingness not to know, or at least try to postpone, the need to know where the staircase is taking you, or vairagyam.

Then, kshema. (It helps to pronounce this word if you have either a good Spanish jota or a Hebrew challah or chaim. Sounds like this: kk (with that gutteral ch sound)-shay-mah.) Meaning: maintaining the progress or the change or the effort that was required to get to that step.

This morning: six students in class at the new studio. Willingness to chant OM or AHHH (my fallback offering for those who prefer, for so many different reasons, not to chant Sanskrit). Willingness to laugh at my joke, even though slightly prompted by me. And I detected, for the first time, willingness to try once to exhale with the mouth open - a good technique for relieving stress - but until today, either a no-go or so quiet that I could not hear it happening. And after class, a student stopped to ask me a question. Huge change, tiny movement to the next step for the students and me. Now, kshema: going slow, still unraveling the tangle of how to teach to students who live only five miles away from the other studio, but might be halfway across the world for the subtle cultural differences and personalities.

And Hat #3 of 4 done. Pictures tomorrow. Now, crab cake, baked potato, peas, and then some Office from Netflix and some knitting.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Hat #2 of 4

The next hat:
Pattern: Turn a Square
Designer: Jared Flood
Yarn: Cascade 220 wool and Silk Garden, color 274
Needles: size 6 16" circ and DPNs, size 4 16" circ
Number of stitches cast on: 82/then increased 8 to total of 90 stitches for body of hat
Raglan decreases started: at 5 1/2" from cast on edge
Another quick, satisfying knit. I love working with the Silk Garden: every row is a surprise. And the color changes are so subtle that you'll be knitting away on green and then slowly, the yarn turns a completely different but perfect color shift. No wonder this stuff sells out immediately when it goes on sale on the Web.
My discoveries on this version: my theory about postponing the decreases to 5 1/2" instead of 5" from the cast on edge was erroneous. Better for the look of this closely-fitted hat to have a more shallow crown rather than something leaning toward mushroom-shaped.
And what you see on the exterior of the Silk Garden skein is very different than what happens when you start knitting from the free end coming from the inside of the skein. At the yarn shop, I carefully matched color 274 to my skein of blue Cascade. It looked like I was dead on with a good match to the blue as well as bits of greys and other shades of blue to fulfill the recipient's request for a blue or grey hat. Knitting was another story. Pulling the yarn from the interior of the Noro-wound skein, I had teals, greens, and plenty more green, and then finally, at the crown, some green into purple. The greys and blues never made it into the hat. From now on, I'll be rewinding the skein into my own ball of yarn so that I can pick out the colors that I need, and save the rest for another hat. Or maybe a beautiful vest of all of the leftovers?
And this is now #2 of 4 because I forgot about the pink Malabrigo Foliage that I wanted to knit for one of my teachers. Need to finish that one before I go away so that I can leave the hat in Chicago for her to pick up when she comes later in the month to run a training weekend.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Hat #1 of 3

Pattern: Turn a Square
Designer: Jared Flood
Yarn: Cascade 220 wool and Silk Garden from my stash
Needles: size 4 (see below) and size 6 16" circs, size 6 DPNs
Gauge: 19-20 stitches and 27 rows to 4" knit in the round, finished by soaking in Eucalan and air drying
Size: Women's Small
This pattern needs no linking: it is a classic and is easily found on the Web or by going to the brooklyntweed blog. Easy, quick, and a great, great result. It's all about the Silk Garden and the gradual color changes that occur from brim to crown. And the sharp turns at the raglan decreases. This hat looks good on everyone, and that's saying a lot for a hat.
Some modifications made. The intentional one was to start the hat with 82 stitches cast on, work K2P2 ribbing for one inch, and then increase 10 stitches to 92. Somehow, I increased by 14 stitches and worked the body of the hat on 96 stitches. Also, I accidentally used a size 5 needle for the ribbing, which would be better off a little tighter to snug the hat onto the forehead. And I followed directions to begin my decreases at five inches from the cast on edge. This makes sense if you have the larger number of stitches called for in the pattern. But since I'd decreased the number of stitches, the crown ended up being a little more shallow than I'd intended. So, we have an almost perfect size Small hat instead of the Medium I was going for.
I tell you all of this so that I can save you from the mistakes that I made. Some from lack of attention, others from lack of experience. Another knitter, with more math acumen and foresight than I exercise, might have anticipated the ratio of stitches to crown depth situation on her own. For me, the process of error and discovery was required.
Next up, a blue Turn a Square with Silk Garden stripes in blues, greens and greys. I'm shooting for a size Small on this one: the recipient is petite and has short hair. I'm calling the next one Hat #2 of 3, but may have to weasel one more out to replace the happenstance Small above.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Sanga Hats

Three hats and a scarf to go before the 18th, when I leave for two weeks of yoga therapy training in Tennessee. I'm focused and going with an easy but solid choice of the Turn a Square hat. This one is for someone who requested reds, purples and blues. Cascade 220 left over from a felted purse and a Noro Silk Garden in reds, blues, pinks and purples. In a week and a half I go back into Sangaland to spend two weeks with 30 other students as we review case studies in yoga therapy. Sanga means community, the people who you choose to spend time with, surround yourself with. According to the Yoga Sutra-s, a good sanga can help to reduce suffering by providing companionship, good advice, support, laughter. A bad sanga can increase agitation, bad choices, confusion.

It will be intense. This is the first time that we will be showing our work to the group, and I anticipate some strong emotions as people choose how to respond both to critiques of their own work as well as commenting on the work of others. A group of yoga teachers is not always more evolved; they simply realize more clearly when ego, worry, defensiveness, pride shape how they respond to others.

In preparation for the trip, I'm trying to get all my yoga and knitting ducks in a row. For the yoga, I'm working on reviewing my notes (will one more Sanskrit term stick in my crowded brain? and wow, I've learned a lot in two and a half years) and putting together as clear and concise a presentation of my case studies as I can. That means writing up the paperwork, making 35 copies - including practices written for each student - and gathering my thoughts so that I can stand up in front of the group, say sufficiently interesting things to keep the group awake, and be efficient in making the points or raising the questions that I'd like to hear suggestions for. Such as: what best to give a student who is very busy, very stressed, has a breathing problem, but almost falls asleep after just a few exhale-focused breaths (which usually help to lengthen the breath and create a relaxation response)?

For the knitting, I'm taking along the Ruffled Shawl, a skein of Silky Wool in the garnet color and a beautiful burnt orange for the unruffly ruffled edge (meaning that it will be more of a soft undulation than a girly ruffle, I hope). And the goal is to complete the rest of the hats that I offered to knit for colleagues at the training in October before I leave. After the one pictured above, I have left a version in brown Cascade 220 with a brown, orange and red Silk Garden; a blue Cascade 220 with a grey, blue, and green Silk Garden; and maybe an orange scarf for someone from Arizona who doesn't wear hats.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Tweedy Ruffles

My version of the beautiful, urban shawl at Mustaa Villaa. Elsebeth Lavold Silky Wool on a size 6 Bryspun needle. The color is more garnet than red in person.

Nothing but garter stitch and four yarn overs on every other row. Like taking a nice, long exhale after my recent attempts at knitting sweaters. My thought is to do two skeins in the red, then switch to orange or pink for a soft, unruffly-type ruffle as edging.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Cultural Competency

I am deep in the wilds of a new culture. And, slowly, I am having to learn a new language for teaching yoga.

My daughter tells me that this is cultural competency: that, in order to communicate, you need to figure out the language that the natives are speaking. This refers not only to spoken language, but to all the many ways in which we communicate: through our physical habits, through our clothing and cars and houses and all the other material goods that say - this is who I am, or at least want to be thought of -, through the expressions on our face and whether or not we display the inner emotions for others to see. Even, or especially, behavior within a group can be a strong mode of communicating who we want to be seen as.

My daughter explained this to me over the phone Sunday, as I was telling her about my new students. They do not breathe. Or, if they are, and I am still doubtful despite the physical impossibility of going an hour and fifteen minutes without taking a breath, they are the quietest breathers that I have ever taught. And even having given up being able to hear that quiet whisper sound of ujayii breathing, I still thought I might be able to see a chest rise and fall. Nada.

Why is this important? Because the breath is a potent tool. Using the exhale as our example: the breath resets the nervous system from sympathetic to parasympathetic - and thus from stress to relaxation mode; it provides a barometer for measuring whether the practice is too challenging (the breath becomes ragged) or too easy; it gives the teacher a sense of how the class is responding (deep sighs, short breaths can indicate that students need a rest or an easier sequence); and the breath is the connection between mind and body, so as you control the breath more effectively, you begin to feel more awareness of the habits of your mind.

But I need a new way to communicate this, and it seems that practical examples do work in this culture. As does a wry aside. Now I'm talking about Tadasana, or mountain pose, not as a pose of stillness from the outside and energy and work from the inside, but as what the guards at Buckingham Palace do for hours at a time. (Wry aside: Do you think that the Queen knows that they are doing yoga?) That brief pause at the end of the inhale and after the exhale? Not as a moment of emptiness or silence that contains much, but like that moment, when you're driving stick shift, and you push the clutch in and the car hesitates for a moment before changing gears - nothing is happening, but you can feel that something is about to happen.

It's a challenge for me. I'm spoiled by students who laugh or groan at my jokes, talk occasionally during class, try chanting if I ask them to, and occasionally make a face to let me know that they are hating or loving the class. It seems that, with my new students, I'll have to rely much more on face-to-face conversation. At the end of class, several thanked me and said that it was a wonderful class.