Thursday, February 25, 2010

Week 3 - Ariana

Week 3.
10 Poses.

The main difference between this sequence and the previous is that Tree Pose (Vrksasana) is removed and Revolved Triangle (Parvritta Trikonasana) is added. I am surprised that Revolved Triangle is in this early sequence only because this has been a difficult pose for me for a long time.

Iyengar mentions that mastering (when does one actually master any pose?) the standing poses prepares the pupil for advanced forward bending. Then I realized why he starts with all these standing poses - to build strength first in the legs - the largest muscle groups. I have also been reading B.K.S. Iyengar's "The Tree of Yoga," in which he mentions stretching the body from the floor (foundation) all the way up/out through the entire body. I think this is something that can be applied more skillfully and mindfully only when strength is developed. The body has to be able to support itself before it can extend. As I learned in my Yogaworks 200-hour training, "Align and stabilize in order to elongate." Another way to understand this is "root in order to rise."

Students often struggle with the idea of holding poses in Iyengar style classes. Maybe this is a misnomer, after all if you are breathing in the pose, you are not holding anything. The body is not still. It is not rigid. There is subtle movement with the breath there. Lately I find that in that space, in that "holding" is where the mind and bones settle and the muscles release. This is where exploration of mind and body awareness can occur.

While I was in Side Angle "Parsvakonasana," I started to feel a little stagnant or drooping in the pose. So I experimented. I ignited the breath and on the breath started making large circles with the top arm. On the inhale I reached the arm along my ear then up towards the ceiling, on the exhale I reached the arm back, and then in front of me. I noticed how this circular movement with my arm affected the position of my torso in the pose. As a result I was able to rotate my torso up to the ceiling more. After that I felt more settled in the pose and was able to stay in it and breathe attentively.

I am noticing unevenness in my body. My left calf and hamstring are tighter than my right. As a result rotated Triangle on the left side is more difficult for me. I had to be much more mindful and got into the pose more slowly on the left than on the right. In Mountain Pose (Tadasana) one leg presses into floor more than the other. Sometimes one side of my body feels heavier than the other.

I really enjoyed Warrior 1 (Vira 1) today. Just when I think I have lengthened through the torso all I can, I dig deep and find another half inch. It just feels good.

Corpse Pose (Savasana) is the perfect counter pose for all the other asanas. We spend so much time and effort resisting gravity - lifting the leg muscles and the knee caps, lengthening through the torso, lifting the arms and lifting the chest. Savasana is where we surrender to gravity and let it do its work on us.

Here are some quotes from the "The Tree of Yoga" that have been resonating with me lately and shaping my practice:

"When you are practicing a pose in yoga, can you find the delicate balance between taking the pose to its maximum extent, and taking it beyond that point so that there is too much effort creating wrong tension in the body?"

"Because the strong muscles try to control the pose, the weak muscles give way. When doing the pose therefore, you have to maintain a single stretch from the floor to the top without letting any part drop."

How asana is a form of meditation:
"You can lose the benefits of what you are doing because of focusing on too much partial attention on trying to perfect the pose. What are you focusing on? You are trying to perfect the pose, but from where to where? That is where things become difficult. Focusing on one point is concentration. Focusing on all points [in the body] at the same time is meditation."

"Analysis in action is the only guide."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Week 3 - Jenny

Slightly different sequence this week. Mr. Iyengar adds Revolved Triangle (Parivrtta Trikonasana) and Wide-Legged Forward Bend (Prasarita Padottanasana I). Laying in Savasana at the end of this sequence, I felt extreme length through the whole center of the body - front and sides. And in Shoulderstand (Salamba Sarvangasana I), I was able to lengthen through my spine more than usual - I was taller. I'm not sure what it was. I think it's length through the side body (once again) as created by the sequence, which started in Extended Triangle (Utthita Trikonasana) and moved on to Extended Side Angle (Utthita Parsvokanasana). I wonder if the added twist in Revolved Triangle had anything to do with it. I'm sure it did. Considering the sequence is almost the same as the last 2 weeks - the only differences are the added twist before Intense Side Stretch Pose (Parsvotanasana) - a side stretching pose in its own right - and then Wide-Legged Forward Bend, where I was surprised to find a nice stretch through the groins and the inner thighs. I've done this pose many a time, but not exactly the way Mr. Iyengar directs in this book. He has you jump your legs wide - "4 1/2-5 feet" - then lean forward tipping the pelvis forward, then place your head on the floor and let your spine round. I've always been taught to bring the legs closer together if the head touches the floor. I read recently in Judith Lasater's book that you can round the spine and rest the head on the floor in more of a meditative position, but that's the first I heard of it. I really like Mr. Iyengar's version. Having rather flexible hamstrings (the one naturally flexible part of my body - we all have something), I always had to move my feet in towards each other to prevent myself from having to round the spine. But here, Mr. Iyengar allows you to round the spine. And in this position, I found a nice, not too intense stretch through the groins and inner thighs, as well as a restful, meditative shape. And you hang from your pelvis. And that also explains the feeling of extreme length through the torso at the end of it all. Taller. Huh.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Week 2-Ariana

week 2.
Same poses.
45 minutes.

I managed to remember to do all of the poses this time. Corpse included. I did the sequence late at night before bed so my body was pretty open. This time I was more aware of what I want to post on the blog. But I want to do the poses for the sake of the poses, not the blog. So I kept trying to bring my awareness back to the pose, and I kept noticing more and more things and then I would think, "I need to remember that."

I attended an Iyengar style class today with Tzahi Moskovitz. He suggested I focus on lengthening my side ribs away from my pelvis. So that was my focus in this sequence today. Actually, I found that I was grounding down from the pelvis down (not just the feet) and lifting from the navel up, infinitely, or at least trying to. While inverted in Shoulder Stand I did the opposite- grounded down from the navel down to the arms while I lifted my pelvis up. I am exploring this and beginning to feel more lightness in the poses as a result. My weight is disbursed–grounding down into earth while reaching to heavens. Earth. Sky.

Today I wondered why Extended Side Angle (Parsvakonasana) is before Warrior 2. To me, Warrior 2 is a precursor to Parsvakonasana. Unless Mr. Iyengar wanted to keep the Warrior poses together. Now I am wondering why he has 2 externally rotated standing poses followed by a neutral standing pose and then another external. So many questions.

There are many distractions that come up before and during practice, especially when practicing in my living room. drawing the blinds, picking up papers on the floor; a contract I need to submit; lint, dog hair and my hair on my yoga mat; and yes I lint brushed it before my shoulder stand.

Week 2 -Jenny

Was noticing through this sequence (same sequence as Week 1) that length in the side body is constantly asked of the practitioner. Starting with Mountain (Tadasana) and Tree (Vrkasana), both photos show Mr. Iyengar with arms overhead, emphasizing the length created from hip to armpit on each side. Then getting more serious in Extended Triangle (Utthita Trikonasana) and Extended Side Angle (Utthita Parsvakonasana). Can you tell I've been a little obsessed with side body length lately? And of course in Intense Side Stretch (Parsvottanasana), which is named for said stretch. It made me discover the same length in Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II). I really like his way of entering Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I). He has you stand with your feet apart, then turn your feet properly, then turn your body toward the front leg, then bend your front leg to come into the pose. This way your hips are most definitely aligned - you can play with it to feel when you come out of your hip joint, or hip hinge, on the front leg. And the challenge becomes getting your back heel down to the floor by finding relaxation in the foot and calf (for those of us with tight sprung calves, this is a major challenge). This differs from what I've been doing all these years in Vinyasa practices, where you flow into Warrior I from a lunge - in that case, the challenge is getting your back hip around to face forward - a seemingly impossible task. I like Mr. Iyengar's approach. Different things work for different bodies, but for my body type, this is a good entry to the pose. Shoulderstand (Salambha Savangasana) has never seemed to agree with me and my tight shoulders, but it's getting much better. In the last few months, my shoulders are letting go and my shoulder blades are finding their place on my back.

Now I feel relaxed. Savasana (Corpse Pose) is bottomless. I was cranky when I started the sequence - some fears about my 13-year old iguana's health were plaguing me - but I feel much calmer now. We always talk about and see the calming effects of yoga. I'm noticing that these effects are here even though I'm alone in my home - no studio or ambience or assistance or dialogue from a teacher. This practice of yoga blows me away. I did nothing special today - some poses, that's all. But through awareness/consciousness/internal study during the pose work, the calming effects surfaced. The stretching was, of course, there. Shoulderstand probably accounts for a good amount of the calming qualities of the sequence. Being 2/3 upside down - blood flow being flipped, throbbing in the face - it's quite relaxing. Even though my shoulder tightness makes this a difficult pose for me, the effects are present. It must be super awesome if you have more shoulder flexibility and are able to stack your hips over your shoulders in this pose. Someday . . . And then Savasasa. Letting the bones drop. Ahh. Now I'm thinking more clearly. Now I'm accepting my situation as it is. Not perfect. And not even perfect acceptance. But you take what can get. And march on. Yoh -gah.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Week 1 - Jenny

It seems the asanas are quite intense without much of a warm-up - Mountain and Tree followed immediately by Extended Side Angle and Triangle, then Warriors. So I warmed up with just a few (trying to keep as pure to the book as possible) easy sun salutations, then headed into the sequence. What an experience this must be for someone who has never done yoga before. Even if you were an athlete, the extreme stretch of the extended standing poses is, well, extreme. I'm used to Vinyasa practices where, by the time I get to the extended poses, I've done vigorous sun salutations that include flowing through Chair pose (Utkatasana), Chatarunga, Upward Facing Dog, Downward Facing Dog, and Warrior I and II. So the stretches of these standing poses in Mr. Iyengar's sequence sort of POPPED me open in a way. I can see where he's going with his sequencing - stablilization (Mountain), a balance (Tree), strengthening, stretching and opening in the standing poses, then an inversion (Plow and Shoulderstand). Simple and beautiful - getting at all the major muscle groups and joints. After Savasansa (Corpse pose), I felt a sense of refreshment. Aliveness.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Week 1-Ariana

Week 1.
10 Poses.
First thoughts.

I noticed the absence of Forward bend (Uttanasana) and downward dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) and threw them in between a couple poses because it felt natural. These 2 poses are often taught in beginners classes so I wonder why they are not included here.

I also notice it is hard to resist the urge to move on the breath and do some vinyasa or some sun breaths.

I was having trouble balancing on my right leg for Tree Pose (Vrksasana). Had the same issue the last couple days. I think it was because I wore heels the other night (which I rarely do) and that ankle was a little tender as a result.

I struggled to keep my back heel down in Warrior 1 (Virabadrasana 1). To work on that, I was focused on the feet rooting DOWN as my chest and arms raised UP.

The sequence took 20 minutes. Or I should say I spent 20 minutes on the poses while it took me days to finally carve out the time to do them in the first place. It made me wonder if I should have been holding the poses longer. I know that poses are held longer in Iyengar style classes. But I am limited with time today.

Just realized I left out Corpse pose (savasana). I neglected to read that one and I know and preach its importance. oops. Welcome to the joys of cultivating a disciplined home practice.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

An Invite

You (and you, and you) are cordially invited to join Ariana and me on this adventure. Just get a copy of LIGHT ON YOGA and join in when you like. You can comment on the blog to let us know what you're experiencing. This is gonna be fun!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Light on Light

Okay, so two weeks ago I was doing my daily yoga practice in my dining room. As multitudes of yoga teachers do, I use B.K.S. Iyengar's LIGHT ON YOGA as a constant reference. LIGHT ON YOGA (LOY) was first published in 1965. In over 600 photos, Mr. Iyengar demonstrates asanas (poses) and variations of asanas, complete with descriptions on how to enter and leave each asana and what each is supposed to work or stretch or do.

In the back of this amazing resource, Mr. Iyengar suggests a program - a 5-year program - of the asanas (poses) and the order in which they should be practiced. Each week has a series of asanas, which are referenced back to their photos and descriptions earlier in the book. I thought - wouldn't it be neat to try this? To go through these sequences as Mr. Iyengar laid them out and see what that did for you. I'm guessing that's what early yogis in this country were doing in 1965.

But I've been practicing yoga for 7 years. I teach yoga. I have a pretty deep practice. It doesn't make sense for an experienced yogi to try this out. And then I thought - who cares, why rules, why boundaries.

I didn't want to leave my own instincts about my home practice behind, doing only the sequences in the book. So I decided to set out on a journey. To take one day a week to practice the asanas in the sequences that Mr. Iyengar suggests. And to see what that does. Maybe it will do nothing (I doubt it - yoga never ceases to amaze me). But this is one aspect of yoga that I really like: let's try it. I don't know what will happen. Let's do it and see.

I thought perhaps someone would like to join me on this journey. I asked my friend Ariana as she is as passionate about yoga as I am. She got right on board. And she suggested a blog. Which made me think - we're the Julie and Julia of yoga! Plodding our way through an old book - trying out what the master said. So here we are. We'll be letting you know how it goes. What we find. Good and bad and inbetween.

Here goes . . .