Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Week 8- Jenny

Okay, back to new sequences.  Week 8 built on the past sequences, adding a couple more challenging poses (asanas).  The two major one were balances - Warrior III (Virabadrasana III) and Half Moon Pose (Ardha Chandrasana).  For the first time ever, I noticed that these poses are quite similar.  Half Moon is a sideways version of Warrior III.

So for Warrior III, Mr. Iyengar has you start in Warrior I, then lay your chest on your thigh with arms stretched out in front of you, then move into the pose on an exhale.  I like the entry.  There's a moment of "here we go" as you lift off - and somehow that works.  It's hard for me to keep my hands together in front of me in this pose - I have tight shoulders.  So I tried to get them as close as I could without creating too much tension in the shoulders.  This pose is so invigorating and so challenging to the symmetry of the body.  I use this trick I learned from a pilates teacher friend - I look at the shape of the rectangle that is formed from shoulder to shoulder to hip to hip.  No matter what, that rectangle must remain intact.  Any skewing of the rectangle and you're off balance.  It works in a lot of poses, but it's really apparent in Warrior III.  So yes, lots of power coursing through the body as the standing leg reaches infinitely into the floor and the raised legs and arms reach infinitely front and back.  But then a pull of the energy towards midline - the sushumna or central channel.  And that makes the pose rock solid for me - well, not tense like a rock, but stretched like a soaring eagle - still, but moving.

Ardha Chandrasana is one of the poses that has never quite agreed with me.  I tend to be a good balancer.  And the universe has sent me this pose so that I understand what some of my students are dealing with in balances.  Again, I like the entry.  Starting in Extended Triangle (Utthita Trikonasana), then bending the forward and placing the hand on the floor, then lifting off into the pose.  I can usually balance if I look at the floor.  But when I try to look up, I lose it.  And I've tried to slowly move the head side and up, spotting places on the wall and then wall-ceiling joint, but it's hard.  Though he doesn't explain it in text, the photos show Mr. Iyengar looking upwards before lifting into the pose.  So I tried it that way.  It was better than usual.  It makes lifting off much more difficult and much slower (that's probably the point - I should balance my way into the position rather that jump into it), but it more effectively gets me to the final position.  In the past, I've always done this pose with the upper arm raised, but Mr. Iyengar has you place the arm on the side of the body.  I like it.  It takes the arm out of the equation so that the opening of the chest (per his instructions) is more available.

The other new pose was Wide-Legged Forward Bend II (Prasarita Padatonasana II) - we've been doing Wide-Legged Forward Bend I (Prasarita Padotanasana I), where you place the crown of the head on the floor.  The only difference here is that you place the arms either on the hips or in "namaste" behind your back.  I put them on my hips (tight shoulders again).  Mr. Iyengar mentions that this version of the pose requires more strength from the legs.  And yes, it does.  You have to engage the legs if you don't want to fall on (and possible over) your head.  A deeper form of the first version.

So I've been holding Shoulderstand and Plow (Halasana) for 5 minutes each.  They really become meditative.  I love it.  I come out of those into Ujjayi breath in Corpse Pose (Savasana).  Today I felt much more release of my body in Savasana.  I think it's due to the holding of Shoulderstand and Plow, especially Plow.  With more time in Plow, my shoulder blades get a little closer to their ideal place on my back- the rhomboids and trapezius muscles stretch and relax some, and I lay more of my body on the floor.  Ah.  I came out of the sequence invigorated and alive and ready for more.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Week 7 - Ariana

For the 7th week, Mr. Iyengar suggests consolidating the poses from the first 6 weeks and holding the poses longer.

This blog is keeping me committed to this practice. Otherwise I would have rationalized postponing this sequence due to a busy week. So today I took a couple hours during my Saturday afternoon to do it while my daughter was "napping".

I felt unsteady and had trouble focusing at first so I put on Deva Premal's Moola Mantra which I have been practicing to lately.

So I began with Tadasana. I have been experimenting with my foot placement here. Today I felt most steady and strong with the big toes and heels touching. I usually separate the heels slightly. But I find that having the inner edges of the feet touching helps me access my mid-line. From the mid-line I have strength and I can lift up and stand taller from there. When I separate the heels slightly I lose that energy line.

It is worthwhile to pay attention to how we stand. I have been focusing on teaching Tadasana in my classes. It is often overlooked by students. They seem to see it as a rest stop rather than a pose. Here are some comments Mr. Iyengar has about Tadasana:

"People do not pay attention to the correct method of standing. Some stand with the body weight thrown only on one leg, or with one leg turned completely sideways. Others bear all the weight on the heels, or the inner or outer edges of the feet. This can be noticed by watching where the soles and heels of the shoes wear out. Owing to our faulty feet, we acquire specific deformities which hamper spinal elasticity."

Tree (Vrksasana) was unstable for me today. The sole of my foot would not stay put. It kept sliding down towards my knee on both sides. I blame my choice of pants today. At first I got frustrated and stepped off the mat, briefly contemplating changing my pants. But then I came back and thought, ok there must be something I can learn from this. So the slipping foot was distracting for me but I stuck with it.

In general I stayed a few breaths longer than usual in each pose (except towards the end when my daughter came out to see what I was doing). I noticed when my mind said, "ok, it's time to come out of the pose." But I resisted the urge rather than accommodating it.

Today in Side Stretch (Parsvakonasana) and Revolved Triangle (Parvritta Trikonasana) I found a small back bend in the upper back. When I had been in the pose for a few breaths I moved my head back, which shifted my weight back behind me. The twist opened up for me, particularly in the upper back.

Staying longer in the poses allowed me to play with my edge more. I bent my front knee more in both warriors and realized that I usually hold back from bringing the thigh parallel to the floor even though I can do it. Today my inner thigh muscles and groin muscles felt elastic.

I had just finished Urdhva Prasarita Padasana (which is getting easier) when my daughter came out to see what I was doing. I did not want to stop the practice so I brought her into it. Boat and Half Boat were next so I asked her if she wanted to go on a boat ride. Of course she did. Surprisingly I was still able to do them with her "sitting in the boat." She liked it so much she wanted to do it again and again and again until I couldn't any more.

When I went up into Shoulderstand my daughter was impressed. She called it "Elbow Stand." I thought about how we use the elbows but really we want to support the weight in the shoulders, stacking the hips and feet above the shoulders, not the elbows.

I told her to listen to the sound of my breath while I did Ujjayi in Savasana. She said, "It's like you're sleeping, right?" Then she started to sing me a lullaby- something about going into deep wide water. She kept saying adorable things, making me smile throughout Savasana.

After today's practice I feel ebullient - it might have something to do with my Smiling Savasana.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Week 7 - Jenny

So I picked up LIGHT ON YOGA today to check the sequence. I knew that the last sequence was Weeks 5-6, so I was excited to see what was in store for me. I was surprised to see that for Week 7, Mr. Iyengar suggests consolidating the poses (asanas) and holding them longer.

So I went through all the poses that have been introduced since Week 1 - it wasn't much different than last week's sequence, since each sequence builds on the last. I decided to go back and read the description of each asana before doing it. For each one, I found one piece (or two) that brought me deeper into the pose. Here is the journey:

I found prana (life force energy, in this case in the form of breath) coursing through my rib cage - something I've never felt in this pose before. I know it's due to the depth of front opening poses, especially Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I), that I've found working through this book.
Mr. Iyengar tells you to keep the back of the legs, the back of the chest and the hips in one line. This alignment pulled my ribs in and I found more prana traveling up my back. I also found more twist (rotating chest to sky).
Similar to Triangle, Mr. Iyengar suggests you keep the chest, the hips and the legs in a line. To do so, "move the chest up and back." Again, more prana. He also tells you to stretch the body infinitely, stretching the spine so long that your vertebrae pull apart and your skin stretches. I felt like I was 10 feet tall.
Lift up out of coccyx. Wow. Amazing instruction. I pulled my low back longer and found more breath, more prana, cruising right up the center of my torso - specifically in the soft part where the two rib cages meet. This pose is my nemesis and Mr. Iyengar just brought it closer to being my friend.
I was actually surprised at the lack of instruction Mr. Iyengar gives for this pose. In vinyasa practice, which stems from Ashtanga yoga, Warrior II is such a big deal - I don't think it's as big a deal for My. Iyengar. That being said, the instruction is excellent, just sparse.
As I mentioned in an earlier blog, stretching the shoulders and shoulder blades really resonated with me in this pose. It pulled me up out of my hips and allowed me to twist deeper and from a lower place in the spine.
I like how Mr. Iyengar has you put your chin to your knee, then stretch the head forward so the nose, then lips, then chin come to the knee. My chin doesn't make it to my knee yet. But there's something about that action of rounding first, then stretching the head forward - that seems to me to bring in the side stretch (otherwise, it feels like a leg stretch - keep in mind that I cannot yet do 'Namaste hands" behind my back, so I'm grabbing elbow to elbow and that may be diminishing the side stretch).
I didn't do this pose too often before my studies with LOY, so I had read this one carefully in the preceding weeks. So there weren't any instructions that surprised me. I have to say, though, that I love the way Mr. Iyenyar instructs you into and out of the pose. He has you place your hands on the floor beneath your shoulders and arch your back, then come forward into the pose and then round your spine to place your head on the floor. Similar to the feeling in Parsvottanasana, this stretch forward before curling the spine. You get a feeling of length in the torso and a lift off of the hips (in this case, a hang off of the hips).

The core work proceeded as usual. I had studied these poses so much in the past two weeks that I just stuck with the instructions and held the poses for longer. And I do feel like a UFC fighter when I get through these.

I realized when I looked at the instructions that I had never looked at them before. When it came to that pose in the sequence, I just did it. So I had no idea that more than a page is written on this pose. It's no surprise, since so many yoga teachers of Mr. Iyengar's caliber sing this pose's praises. What really stood out for me was the chin lock - Jalandhara Bandha - where you bring your chin to your chest. I work with this bandha every day in pranayama (breathing exercises), but I never thought of it in Shoulderstand. He says you should bring your chest to your chin instead of chin to chest. This was a revelation for me. I have tight shoulders and chest and Shoulderstand is tough for me - I can't seem to stack my body correctly. This use of Jalandhara Bhanda got me so much closer to the proper positioning of the pose. I was able to stay for 5 minutes. And for once I was able to feel the calming effects of the pose - usually I'm just trying like hell to hold myself up. Wild.
Another one I hadn't looked at. What is up with that? So here's what was amazing. Mr. Iyengar walks you from Shoulderstand to Plow, then has you put your hands by your feet (unless you have a good enough Shoulderstand to be able to do it there), then let go of the chin lock, pulling your torso up off the floor more. You point your hands now down past your hips. If you have the flexibility, you can interlace first your thumbs, then all fingers. I cannot touch my hands together, so I grabbed the sides of the mat. And I got a lift off the top of my back that I haven't experienced thus far). And man did I feel it in my back. I got a stretch through the center of my back that confused me. I couldn't figure out how this action was creating that stretch. But I just have to say that it is, for whatever reason - I'm guessing it's just that my hips are higher so my back is stretching more.

After it all, I did Ujjayi breath in Corpse Pose (Savasana) for 5 minutes, as directed. I love doing this. It adds a lot for me. I get up from Savasana ready to take on anyone and anything. Victorious Breath, indeed.

And so I look forward to Week 8 and whatever is in store for us there.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Week 6 - Ariana

Again I was looking forward to this sequence and managed to practice in the morning - my new favorite time to practice.

My mind was racing today. Maybe it was the coffee, the sequence, Spring air, or just me. Who knows? While in some of the poses I would suddenly realize that I was not aware of what I was doing at that moment. Either I was thinking about how I would teach the pose in my next class, what I was going to write about, or work that I needed to do. I was patient with myself and kept reminding my mind/brain to focus on the breath and the body. Gentle reminders help.

Revolved Triangle opened up for me this week. I was able to breathe more freely and deeply and not feel constricted or stuck. While in this pose I backed off of the effort and tried to find more ease in the pose. Breath assists in that process.

While in Shoulderstand my breath was even and full. I watched my abdomen undulate with every inhalation and exhalation. I thought about how good it was for my organs to be releasing in the opposite direction than they normally do. I realized how breathing while inverted is a good "workout" for the diaphragm. When it contracts on the inhale it has to press the viscera up to make room for air. Then on the exhale it is still supporting the viscera as it releases back into the ribcage.

Ujjayi while in Savasana was great. The spaces between the breath (Antara Kumbhaka-Internal Retention of the Breath) were quiet, peaceful and lingering. I did some spring cleaning in my lungs - felt like the breath reached the uppermost corners of my ribcage and all the other spaces that are usually left out.

I felt strong, centered and calm after this practice.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Week 6 - Jenny

I have to say it again - Wow. I feel amazing. I'm not sure why the Week 5-6 sequence is smacking me in the face so much more than Week 4 and before. I wonder if it's the core work. This is the first time Mr. Iyengar has asked me to really push myself - he asks for endurance and power in Full Boat Pose (Paripurna Navasana) and especially Half Boat Pose (Ardha Navasana). And the exhilaration coupled with the popped open feeling I'm getting from the extended standing poses - Extended Triangle (Utthita Trikonasana) and Extended Side Angle (Utthita Parvokanasana) - I've talked about that feeling before - is jolting me into this wild open rib cage where prana flows like a flooding river. So then I felt like that prana was coursing through me as I was upside down in Shoulderstand (Salambha Sarvangasana I). Then more opening of the rib cage by opening the back of the ribs in Plow (Halasana). So I enter Corpse Pose (Savasana) with this free flowing breath and Mr. Iyengar hits me again with Ujayii pranayama in Savasana. He has you time it for 5 minutes. Well, when my alarm went off, I popped out of Savasana like a jack-in-the-box. I could take on the world right now. And I will.

Two other things of note: I realized as I was getting ready for the sequence today that Mr. Iyengar has not yet asked for Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). That quintessential yoga pose of us Westerners. Interesting.
I would like to point out after my tirade about ab work last week that Mr. Iyengar makes some comments about the work that made him wise beyond that decade. He emphasizes the strengthening of the back in the Boat poses. And we still call this ab work. It's core work. And Mr. Iyengar knew that even in the 60's. He also talks about the work on the abdominal organs rather than the abdominal muscles. I don't know much about that, but it makes sense to me that you would rather work the organs. The muscles will get worked no matter what you do. But the blown out six pack of body builders is not exactly healthy or, well, attractive. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger knew that - he kept his abs lean and pulled in. Yes, strengthening of the back. Wise man, this Iyengar.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Week 5 - Jenny

Wow. That was different than last week. Oh my ab work. I feel good. Ujayii breath in Corpse Pose (Savasana) is rather calming and sort of pulls everything together. I feel aligned through my breath.

Okay, so these abs. Hmm. Difficult to say the least. Upward Extended Feet Pose (Urdhva Prasarita Padasana), where you lay on the floor with your arms over your head, raising the legs 30 degrees and holding for 15-20 seconds, then again at 60 degrees, then raise the legs to perpendicular (with a sigh of major relief) for 30-60 seconds before lowering them slowly to the floor, is way hard to do. Now, in the workout field, abdominal work, more than anything else, has probably seen the most flux in the past 20 or 30 years, right? There's something new every day. Pilates is big now - I am an avid studier of good Pilates (like yoga, you better have the right teacher). So my concern with this exercise is that the thigh muscles are used to do much of this work. That doesn't mean that the back and abs (the core) aren't working, it just means they're not isolated and also that the thighs and hip flexors are being overworked. The more you work the thighs and hip flexors, the less you work the core. Now, this can be overcome somewhat by conscious work. But if the practitioner has a shortened low back, then the thighs will be used to do most of the work. A slight bend in the knees will take care of much of this. You won't use your thighs as much if the knees are bent. You will need to engage the core to do the work. And the practitioner's low back with lengthen through this exercise as well as yoga poses like Plow (Halasana).

I can't sit here and negate any of this ancient practice, though. Can I? Full Boat Pose (Paripurna Navasana) and Half Boat Pose (Ardha Navasana), on the other hand, if done properly, will most definitely work the core. Again, care must be taken not to overuse the thighs. Again, a slight bend in the knees will suffice. Eventually the practitioner will be able to straighten the legs without overusing the thighs.

So I was a gymnast for 16 years. As part of our conditioning, we held a "hollow body" position that is quite similar to Half Boat Pose. And I can tell you that you can get away with tightening the thighs and hip flexors to hold this position. You don't have to engage the core much at all. So care must be taken to engage the core and release the thigh muscles. Again, a slight bend in the knees as the practitioner learns to engage properly will suffice.

And the rest of the sequence was, sort of, delicious. Lots of opening through the sides of the body. I feel like my rib cage grew three sizes this day. I've got to think Ujayii at the end has something to do with that feeling. Wow. I feel super. I mean, like I AM super. I feel like I should run to my closet and pull out one of many superhero costumes to get ready for my day. Okay, then. I guess I will. To the closet!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Week 5 - Ariana

What's new in this sequence: abdominal work (Prasarita Padasana, Navasana and Ardha Navasana) and a Pranayama exercise. I could always use a little of both so I was looking forward to today's practice. That positive state of mind shaped the entire practice. It seemed to flow almost effortlessly.

This time I did the sequence in the morning. I fit it in whenever I can. So far I have tried it at night, the afternoon and now the morning. I have to say I prefer the morning. It is a terrific way to start the day. Surprisingly my body was not stiff, which it usually is in the morning. Maybe
I was more limber because it was not my first movement of the day. I had been up for a while and walked my daughter to school and back. I began the practice with 10 Sun salutations to warm up. At least I intended to do 10. I lost count.

I did not feel neck strain today in the poses - not even in shoulderstand or plow. My shoulderstand was back today. Somehow I lost it last week.

I got ahead of myself with the Pranayama exercise. I followed the main instructions for Ujjayi Pranayama in Section 203 (p. 441 in my edition) which instructs to sit in any comfortable position and lower the chin to the chest for the Jalandara Bandha. I neglected to see that for this particular sequence the Ujjayi breath was to be done while in Savasana. So I did it both ways.
It felt odd to do this "victorious" or "triumphant" breath while in Savasana. I am used to using that breath while moving in and out of the asanas and sun salutations. Because of that association I find it to be a powerful breath. But it is also steadying. Doing Ujjayi while in Savasana exaggerates that calming quality. Iyengar says this is the only pranayama which can be done at all times of the day and night.

After this sequence I felt centered and calm and ready to tackle the day.

Did I just say tackle?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Week 4-Ariana

My body was tired today, lethargic and heavy. I had to coax it to get it to move. While in Warrior 2 I experimented in order to get a feeling of buoyancy. I made small movements as if I was springing or bouncing up and down gently- as if on a trampoline. The leg muscles released as a result of this. It was fun. Then I stayed in the pose for a few breaths and realized that I wanted to let go of the intensity I was creating in the pose. So I purposely let the body "melt." I spent some time making the form of the pose and when I had established the form, I melted into it. That is what it felt like. I did not collapse I let go of tension. I was playing with the difference between effort and tension.

I enjoyed the tadasanas between all of the standing poses.
Each one felt lighter than the previous.

My neck and shoulders took center stage in Triangle and Side Angle. My bottom shoulder rolls forward and up towards my ear. I adjust that frequently and roll the shoulder away from my ear. But I lose some of the twist in the torso when I do. So I played with that dynamic today. I also felt a lot of over effort in my neck today in these poses. I felt relief from that when I moved the head back slightly.

In Revolved Triangle Iyengar's instruction to rotate the trunk along with the back leg was helpful. I felt more stable and had an easier time bringing the front hip back. I also agree with Jenny that stretching the shoulders and shoulder blades away from each other also helps to get into the pose.

Shoulderstand was hard for me today so I did not stay very long in the pose. My elbows were splaying out making it difficult for me to lift up. I kept feeling the urge to adjust my head and neck while in the pose. Knowing this is not the thing to do I came down instead. Halasana eluded me today too. I was surprised because I really enjoyed it last week. I did the pose the same way- supported with my feet on a chair. Doing the poses the same way on different days reveals how the body changes daily. This time I did the sequence at night. Last week I did it in the afternoon.

My neck is still feeling tense.

Week 4 - Jenny

Same sequence as Week 3.
Feeling really focused right now.
For some reason, I focused immediately as I went into the first pose, Extended Triangle (Utthita Trikonasana). I'm grounded today. I did a little juice fast last week and, though I had trouble focusing during the fast, I've been finding more and more focus since. Anyway, I took a second look at Revolved Triangle (Parivrtta Trikonasana). Ariana mentioned her difficulty with this pose last week. It's hard for me, too. And I've never met someone who has an easy time with this pose. So I went back to Mr. Iyengar's description of the pose and looked at his instructions. He mentions one thing that I was leaving out - "stretch the shoulders and shoulder blades." So I gave it a whirl. I went into the pose a second time and I stretched my shoulders and shoulder blades out and away from each other. And . . . surprise. Freedom. The action of stretching the shoulders and shoulder blades pulls your waist out of your pelvis. You end up moving your torso forward, creating more room for your spine to twist. And your spine twists. It just happens - no extra work required. The body moves instinctively, almost relaxes, into the proper position. Your twist relies less on the assist of the hand that's on the floor - because the spine already has the room to twist. It's like the spine was compressed into the pelvis, preventing me from twisting at the base of the spine. Now the lower vertebrae could get involved, and voila! - more twist. I'm not saying this was my entry into easy Revolved Triangle Land, but the increase in mobility was shocking.
And the rest of the sequence was magical, of course. More and more stretching of the sides of the body. I've been doing this thing lately in Extended Triangle and Extended Side Angle (Utthita Parvokanasana) where I let prana find my position. I rotate the chest to the sky, as we are directed in all yoga classes. But I'm really adamant about it - I won't touch my hand to the floor if it causes me to lean forward in any way. I keep the body sideways and rotate chest to sky at all costs. And then I look at the prana flow. And I feel it coursing up my rib cage on the extended side. And I take subtle movements that allow more prana flow. And I end up finding more alignment and more connection with the pose and my body and in fact, with the unexplainable. I wish I could explain more, but as I said, it's unexplainable. It's that thing that happens in a good meditation. It's beautiful and serene and sensational. Lots of adjectives, but no noun. I can't find one. Sorry, I'll have to go without. I'll live with the unexplained - with the magic. 'Cause it's glorious.