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Using The Creative Habit: 40 days practicing ustrasana

My yoga practice starts with me watching a little Adele; I love that new video for Rolling in the Deep; I’m a big fan of Amy Winehouse, and it’s nice to have another really talented bluesy singer doing so well. So I do my own little yoga dance to Adele which consists of a bunch of sashaying, leg kicking, and some messy ardha chandrasanas, and then almost falling into the splits (and there goes those already overstretched hamstrings).  But my body is warm, and more than ready to practice.

Yesterday was day three of my 40 day ustrasana practice.  I’m committed to drinking kombucha every day, and I’m also practicing a ninety minute sequence every day that peaks with ustrasana.   My ustrasana sequence consists of a really long warm-up, and a slightly obsessive focus on moving my left big toe.  After all, my toe connects to my ankle and my ankle and my shin to my leg, and my leg to my…..  Everything starts from the ground up.  I feel a little bit like a piano player who can’t move her thumb, but I have a sense of humor, and a sense that like Pattabhi Jois used to say, “Practice, practice and all is coming.”

So why 40 days of ustrasana you might ask?  Last year, teacher after teacher kept speaking wildly about the 40 day practice.  As a vinyasa student and teacher, I was intrigued and intimidated by the consistency.  40 days.  I mean I really love that I don’t have to be at an office desk at the same time very day; isn’t 40 days a little like that office desk?  And then I remember Gabrielle Roth saying, “Being a free spirit takes discipline.”[i] Okay, I’m in.  If Gabrielle Roth believes in discipline, I’m there.

Marissa Lee Harris Practicing Ustrasana

The 40 day practice focuses the mind and the body; and can heighten creativity.  I’ve practiced kurmasana for 40 days, hanumanasana for 40 days, and failed to finish my 40 days towards kapotasana last fall.  I think that might be because I didn’t have a box; more on that in a minute.  Not having a box, having a left toe that was asleep, and lower back that hyperextends probably all related to my failure to relate to kapotasana.

Jenna Reeder Practicing Kapotasana. Photo copyright yours truly, Renee Greiner.

I say attempted kapotasana because my attempt was pretty much like having a self-drawn treasure map moving from Los Angeles to Kansas City, Missouri, and ending up in Austin, Texas.  The map is self-drawn, you have no IPhone, or GPS system, the map at some point just doesn’t seem that interesting, you veer south, and you end up going to Austin doing messy ustrasana dropbacks rather than perfecting the stillness that is kapotasana.

Because I have this tendency to go in many directions at once, I’ve turned to Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Habit for help, and I’ve also started practicing regularly with Annie Carpenter at Exhale in Venice.  Both Tharp and Annie Carpenter have dance backgrounds; Tharp is a very well known choreographer and Annie used to dance with Martha Graham.  My friend Anna Bass is currently a dancer with Monica Bill Barnes in New York City, and can tell some pretty funny stories of strangers wanting to videotape her feet.  I’m envious of how these women can connect to their feet; I mean I just had to go and buy toe spacers that I’m pretty sure are not marketed for me.  (A picture of these toes spacers soon to be featured.)

In Chapter 5 of Twyla Tharp’s brilliant book The Creative Habit, she says, “before you can think out of the box, you have to start with a box.”  She starts every new creative project with a box, and fills it with “notebooks, news clippings, CDs, videotapes of [her] working alone in [her] studio, videos of the dancers rehearsing, books and photographs and pieces of art that may have inspired [her].”

I’ve been wanting to commit to a box for a long-time.  I’m in love with ritual for one.

Erinne and I's Siva ritual, burning to build. Photo copyright yours truly, Renee Greiner

The ladder borrowed from the cover of Tharp's The Creative Habit, photo copyright yours truly, Renee Greiner.

And I’m apparently so in love with Tharp that I mimicked her in this picture of Erinne and I.  If you look at the cover of Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Habit, she is also sitting on a ladder looking a little foreboding.

And being in love with ritual, I think the box, already full of old sequences, drawings of poses I’m trying to understand, books that I find useful, and handwritten playlists may guide me somewhere interesting.

creativity in a box

Maybe your box starts with your playlist. (And I can always use suggestions.)

Ustrasana Playlist - I start music about 30 minutes into my practice, or my class.

And just for fun, another picture of my friends Jenna and Anna practicing Vrksasana in SoHo.

Jenna and Anna practicing Vrksasana, photo copyright yours truly, Renee Greiner

Please share your creative habits, whether they originate in a box, in a notebook, in the freezer, or in the breath.  Whether you’re a yoga teacher, a playwright, a cook, a master of 4 children, or a dreamer of any kind, please do share!

Next week, I look forward to writing more about sequencing for ustrasana.  Thanks for continuing to read my blog.


[i] Gabrielle Roth wrote Sweat your Prayers: The Five Rhythms of the Soul.  I highly recommend it to anyone who teaches movement.

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3 Responses to Using The Creative Habit: 40 days practicing ustrasana

  1. Amy says:

    Beautiful post Renee! I would love to see what your sequence leading up to Ustrasana is like. A class I was in today had us doing Ustrasana Prep drop backs squeezing a block between our thighs and I loved it! It really takes the focus to the legs and thighs and awareness not to round the lower back. Miss you!! Much love! xo

    • thursday says:

      That sounds like a lot of fun; I’m going through a stage where I focus a lot more on prep on my own at home with backbends. My sister came over a couple of days ago and took pictures of me mindfully practicing ustrasana against the wall with a block between the thighs and heels, and I realized that even mindfully, I have a really hard time lengthening the low back. But yes, I totally think placing the block between the thighs does wonders to engage the inner thigh muscles and lift the pelvic floor.

      I miss taking class with you; and hope to be in one of your NYC classes in the spring. xo. Let me know what music you are playing these days too.

  2. Erinne says:

    Ein. Let’s set fire to an ecological reserve someday soon… and by that, I mean let’s smoke our hearts ‘n souls until we let go…

    To everyone out there,
    No one has better music in class than Renee.
    -Erinne

    p.s. the first pic (yellow pants) kind of looks like Stace, and I was going to be mad at you for going without me somewhere to yog on public street corner admist hustle ‘n bustle ‘n in proximity to what appears to be drag queen passerbys… We should do that.

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