Monday, October 31, 2011

Practice, change, (not) burning the candle at both ends, coffee, and how one man's modus ponens is another man's modus tollens

Practice this morning was... interesting. First, I got up at my usual early-morning hour and did my Buddhist prayers. And then I realized that I felt very, very tired. So I went back to sleep for a couple more hours before getting back up to practice.

This morning, I did not-quite-full-primary: By that I mean I did primary up to Navasana, then skipped to Baddha Konasana. I'm not going to bore you with the blow-by-blow details of this morning's practice. Suffice to say that I modified a lot: I did no half-lotuses at all on the left knee. Which meant Janu Sirsasana in place of Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana on the second side. Which meant I modified all my Marichyasanas to work around the injured left knee. These modifications seem to have an effect on my inner focus. Perhaps because the modifications feel unfamiliar to me (full disclosure: I have actually never modified any of the Marichis in my practice up to this point), there is a lot more stopping to think about how best to modify this pose or that pose, and therefore less flow. Which meant that there was more space for extraneous, non-practice-related thoughts to creep in. Whereas with the regular no-injury practice, one kind of just zips through the whole thing without too much thought. But I suppose this is part of the process of change and adjustment, and when all is said and done, change is the only constant in the universe. One cannot avoid this truth: Ultimately, the only thing I can do is to embrace it, roll with the punches, and deal with change as best as I can. Or I can kick, scream, and fight it. And be very unhappy.

Huh, it seems that I am boring you with blow-by-blow details of my practice, after all? :-) Anyway, my plan right now is to work with this not-quite full-primary for the next couple of days. Then maybe add in the core primary postures (Bhujapidasana, Kurmasana, Supta K) over the next few days, if my body allows it.


One other thing that injury has taught me is that this practice gives you much, but it also asks a lot of you in return. (David Garrigues writes about this point very eloquently in this post.) Among other things, it asks that you structure your entire daily life around it. Structure your work around it, structure your play and rest around it. What this means is that if you do this practice, there is no room for burning the candle at both ends. You can't expect to, say, go clubbing and drinking every night and get up at 5 or 6 a.m. to do this practice, and expect to do this practice for very long.

Which is a sticking point for me. Well, I don't go clubbing and drinking (although I do have a bottle of beer after dinner some nights). Nevertheless, I do burn the candle at both ends, in my own way. Ever since middle school, I have conditioned/trained my body to go on six hours of sleep every night. By and large, it has not interfered with my daily functioning (at least not in any way that I notice). Sometimes, however, on days when I have been doing more things or not sleeping so well the night before, I get up feeling really tired, but I just go ahead and practice anyway, because I always feel awake and better after practice. And besides, one can always sleep when one is dead, right?

But recently, I have also started to wonder if lack of sleep might somehow translate to less awareness on the mat. Which leads to poorer judgments/choices. Which leads ultimately to injury. Does this mean I need to consider sleeping more? I don't know.  


On to a happier topic. In her recent post, Claudia writes about how her recent lack of a regular Ashtanga practice and her TCM treatment seems to have the combined effect of causing her to lose her desire for coffee. She writes:

"One day I woke up wanting tea instead of coffee. That had not happened since 2008 when the ritual of coffee was wiped out from me. I think it might have something to do with the TCM re-balancing my energies and my body becoming more aware of what coffee does to it.

So what is one to do about the Ashtanga (almost) mantra "no coffee no prana"? I am changing it, of course... [to "No Tea, No Prana"]."

Interesting. Well, here's my theory about what's going on. Perhaps Ashtanga practice stimulates a very special kind of prana flow; a flow that is very different from the prana flows stimulated by other kinds of yoga or mind-body practices. Let's call this special flow the Ashtanga Prana Flow (APF).

This being the case, when Sharath says "No Coffee, No Prana", he really means, "No Coffee, No APF." Or, to put it another way, Sharath could be taken to be saying, "If one drinks coffee, one can activate the APF." It is actually possible to express this in terms of a classical logical argument form:

1. If one drinks coffee, one can activate APF.
2. One drinks coffee.
3. Therefore, one can activate APF.

This argument follows by modus ponens. But if you have taken a philosophy class, you will know the saying, "One man's modus ponens is another man's modus tollens." So the same argument can also be expressed as a modus tollens:

1. If one drinks coffee, one can activate APF.
2. One is not activating/cannot activate/does not wish to activate APF.
3. Therefore, one does not drink coffee.

All this might seem very dorky (but I am a dork, so deal with it :-)), but I think it tells us something about what might be going on in Claudia's case. Since Claudia has recently stopped practicing Ashtanga so regularly, she is not activating the APF; she might very well be activating other kinds of equally beneficial flows, such as chi flow from her TCM practice, but that is another story. In any case, since she is not activating the APF, she probably also does not feel the need to drink coffee. And her body basically responds to this change in her life by sending her brain messages that she does not need to drink coffee. Which is why she now does not want coffee, but wants tea instead. Indeed, it could even turn out that tea (Chinese tea?) activates chi flow. Maybe a TCM master somewhere would also tell us, "No tea, no chi"? But this is a topic for another post.

I realize that all this is probably way more complicated and convoluted than it needs to be. But maybe this is what happens when you have an injured Ashtangi blogging. All that energy that would normally be devoted to practice now needs to go somewhere else :-)


  1. HA HA HA OK you DID go on and on here... but you MIGHT have a point there, perhaps it is the lack of need for APF.

    And I agree with 'embrace it, roll with the punches, and deal with change as best as I can' rather than becoming unhappy that is no good for the Chi

    No tea No Chi... I like it!

  2. Gosh, you read my mind!! I've been thinking alot lately about the commitment that this practice demands of us, and you're right that it asks that we structure our lives around it. Last week was pretty crazy - I was trying to do *everything* (practice, blog, run a photography business, cook, entertain friends) and paid the price for it with a horrible migraine over the weekend, which I'm still recovering from. I guess I've reached my limit ;)

    Re: your question about sleeping more/less. I think you just need to find a sleep pattern that works best for your physical needs. It sounds like 6 hours may no longer be enough for you, and perhaps with the injury, an additional hour of sleep may help with the healing. As for me, I am a sleep hog, so anything less than 7 hours renders me useless :p

    (congrats on your 1 year anniversary by the way!)

  3. Hello Claudia, thanks. I'm happy that you like "No Tea No Chi" :-)

    Hello Savasanaaddict, I hope you get better from your migraine soon. Yes, I will think seriously about getting an additional hour of sleep :-)