Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Week 12 - Jenny

Well, same sequence as last week.  This time I got through it at a more steady pace because I didn't have to stop and look at the book as much.

Here's one of the things I've been noticing about the sequencing.  When I first started with LOY, I was concerned that the sequences started with Extended Triangle (Utthita Trikonasana) and Extended Side Angle (Utthita Parsvakonasna).  No warm-up for these particularly intense poses.  But I've really come to appreciate it this way.  I still do a couple of sun salutations before jumping in, but I've changed my own daily practice to put Triangle and Extended Side Angle before the Warriors (Virabhadrasana I and II).  See, my hips are not super flexible, so I need to work into Warrior I and II.  And I was doing them after warming up with Down Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), Mountain (Tadasana), Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana), etc. through some sun salutations.  But it was always too much.  And now I think I see what Mr. Iyengar is doing: he is sequencing according to the hip openings rather than the side body stretches.  In Triangle, your legs are straight, so there is no stress on either hip.  In Side Angle, there is a small stretch on the front hip.  The Warriors bring the BIG hip openings to the back hip.  So this sequencing makes total sense to me.  And even in the side stretches, he does Extended Triangle with the upper arm straight to the sky, then moves to Extended Side Angle with the bicep over the ear - increasing the side body stretch as you move forward in the sequence.  I haven't quite figured out why the standing twisting poses Revolved Triangle (Parivrrta Trikonasana) and Revolved Side Angle (Parivrrta Parsvakonasana) started later in the sequences and then were moved right after their extended versions.  Of course, as time goes on, I can handle the twisting poses in the earlier spots in the sequences, but why move them there?  Something that'll come to me eventually, I'm sure.

Mr. I. has been saying for weeks now to do Ujjayi pranayama in Corpse Pose (Savasana) with inhalation retention for 5 minutes.  This week the "for 5 minutes" has disappeared.  And there is no other time noted.  And I looked at the coming sequences - it remains this way.  I'm wondering what that's all about.  Am I supposed to do this for longer now?  Well, I did.  I did it for 10 minutes.  In the instructions for Savasana (mind, not for Ujjayi), Mr. I. says to stay in the pose for 15-20 minutes.  So I figured I'll bring it up to 10 this week and go longer next.

I read an interview with Mr. Iyengar about a year ago.  He mentioned that if he could do it over again, he would have made this program in LIGHT ON YOGA ten years long instead of five.  He said he had thought people would be doing the yoga 10 hours a day.  I can see the issue.  We are moving at a rapid pace through these poses.  I'm a yoga teacher and I've been practicing for 7 years.  I have a dance and gymnastics background.  And looking at the sequences ahead, it's only going to speed up.  I know I'll get to a point where I just can't do some of the poses.  And I know that'll be pretty soon.  I can only imagine what this would be like for someone who was new to physical movement.

I came out of the sequence today grounded and calm.  So calm.  Clear mind, clear body.  I can feel my face is soft.  My shoulders are down, even as I type this.  Overwhelming gratitude cloaks me as I sit on my mat.  Gratitude for this practice, for Mr. I., for the universe and for no requirement that I be anything more than I am.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Week 11 - Ariana

Quality of Breath

Today I decided to let my breath be the primary focus of the entire practice and to let my preoccupation with alignment fall to the wayside. Completely. No alignment. Just breath. Sounded like a simple task. But lo and behold with each pose my attention quickly latched on to other things - not just alignment points. "Back to breath" was my mantra and I used it multiple times in every pose and in between.

In the Vini Yoga tradition there is a principle that if you focus on the breath then alignment will follow. The Iyengar tradition holds that if you focus on alignment then the breath will come because you are creating space and opening channels for the breath. I think both are true and I enjoy exploring both paths.

It was very hard for me to only focus on the breath, but I did manage to keep coming back to it. I noticed how much the quality of my breath changed in each pose and how at certain points I was inclined to actually hold my breath. Like when I "lifted off" for Warrior III - as I lifted up my breath stopped after a short inhalation. But then in order to balance in the pose the breath had to come back. Breath and balance. Any time there was tension in my breath my jaw clenched and my tongue pressed to the roof of my mouth. It is a challenge to untie that knot. In order to find the breath I had to relax more in the poses - particularly in the belly and the jaw. Relaxation and breath go hand in hand.

In some poses the breath was smooth, long and steady. As expected, during the abdominal exercises my breath was shorter and stronger than usual and the inhalations were more challenging than the exhalations. In Half Moon Pose (Ardha Chandrasana) my inhalation helped me expand in all directions and the exhale challenged me to keep the feeling of expansion while in the balance. During the shoulderstand sequence it was fuller and steady, but it felt like it took more effort to breathe fully while inverted.

Towards the end of the Ujjayi Pranayama my breath was effortless and so smooth like silk. The more I relaxed the more refined my breath became. At one point I felt like my whole body was breathing, pulsating with breath. Unfortunately as soon as I became aware of it and tried to continue doing that, the feeling went away. It was an involuntary experience.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Week 11 - Jenny

Feeling good . . . feeling good.  Week 11 brings in new poses and also a change in sequence.  Until now, Mr. Iyengar has allowed a bit of a warm-up before the twisting standing poses Revolved Triangle (Parivrrta Trikonasana) and Revolved Side Angle (Parivrrta Parsvakonasana).  This week the sequence starts with Extended Triangle (Utthita Trikonasana) and goes straight into Revolved, then Extended Side Angle (Uttitha Parsvakonasana), then straight into the revolved version.  Craziness, I tell you.  But a pretty awesome moment when I realized that it was really no problem for me.  I was able to find enough opening in the extended versions of the poses that the revolved versions were as they are after more standing poses.

This week Mr. Iyengar adds standing forward bends, Big Toe Pose (Padangusthasana) and Hand to Foot Pose (Padahastasana), the former holding the big toes in yogi toe lock and the latter slipping the hands under the feet (sometimes called 'Gorilla Pose').  Mr. I. has you stretch your torso forward in a concave shape before moving completely into these two poses - the same way you move into Wide-Legged Forward Bend (Prasarita Padattonasana).  I love his instructions for this first step in Padangusthasana: "bring the diaphragm toward the chest and . . . get the concave shape of the back from the coccyx."  This made me reach forward off of the pelvis to create length in the spine, especially the lumbar portion, before curving the spine to come into the pose.  This prevents injuries to the sacroiliac joint, as renowned yoga teacher and physical therapist Judith Lassater will tell you (and as I will tell you, having injured said joint and corrected it by using the concave shape technique). Mr. I. never ceases to amaze with his knowledge of such seemingly Western medicinal techniques.  He never mentions the sacroiliac joint or why you are extending from your pelvis, but his instructions are clearly keeping you from injuring yourself.  He mentions that you will need a guru to help you find the concave back position and that "one has to master other minor poses before attempting this one."  Seems to me this is a clear example of the transitions and blends of yoga and Western medicine.  He was saying it in the 60's from an experiential point of view.  We've done studies to prove it to ourselves - an academic point of view.

Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana) is the last of the standing forward bends in the sequence.  Same idea of trying to find a concave back position before moving into the pose.  Mr. I. mentions the calming effects of this pose - sounds a lot like Prasarita Padottasana.  He has you stay in the pose for about a minute, as opposed to the 20 second holds of the other two forward bends.  And I did feel at peace as I stood in Mountain Pose (Tadasana) after a minute in Uttanasana.

After that, it was back to the sequence of previous weeks - core work, then inversions.  As usual, the core work invigorates.  Then immediately to the calming, serene Shoulderstand (Salamba Sarvangasana I) / Plow (Halasana) / Ear Pressure Pose (Karnapidasana) / One-Legged Shoulderstand (Eka Pada Sarvangasana) inversion sequence.  This whole sequence is so grounding, so relaxing, so meditative (if you allow it to be).  I come out of it into Belly Turning Pose (Jatara Parivartanasana) with ease and serenity.  Then Ujjayi pranayama with inhale retention in Corpse Pose (Savasana) to breathe and open more, to massage the organs or whatever he says - it's perfect.  One of the miracles of everyday life.  Buddhist monk Thich Naht Hanh reminds us all that miracles occur every day in each moment of our lives.  This practice given by Mr. Iyengar puts a miracle right in front of me so I can't possibly miss it.  Breath.  Freedom.  Miracle.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Week 10 - Ariana

Same poses as week 9. Different time of day - afternoon. New experiences and thoughts.

I felt a little rushed and preoccupied because I was trying to fit in the practice during my daughter's nap again. The practice may not have gotten the full attention it deserved.

My left hamstring has been talking to me lately and I felt it again in Intense Side Stretch (Parsvottanasana). So I bent the knee a little to avoid overstretching there. My quads were talking to me too in all of the Warrior poses and Rotated Side Angle (Parsvakonasa). I had a hard time getting into and staying in Warrior 3 on both sides.I attribute it to my leg muscles being tired from an Iyengar class I took on Wednesday. Rotated Side Angle (Parvritta Parsvakonasana) felt sloppy for me today.

I had a new awareness of cross-lateral stretches in the body today. In Rotated Triangle (Parvritta Trikonasana) I felt a diagonal stretch from the back left hip, across the front of the body to the shoulder of the right arm. I also felt it from the front hip across the body to the opposite arm. I have never actually felt that connection before. I felt it spontaneously when I did the pose on the right side and then I purposely tried to replicate it on the left. I had the same experience, but to a lesser degree in Parvritta Parsvalonasana. My sloppiness propelled me out of that pose sooner than I expected.

I am confused as to why Mr. Iyengar placed One-Legged Shoulderstand (Ekapada Sarvangasana) after Plow (Halasana) and Ear Pressure Pose (Karnipadasana). Why come out of the shoulderstand, do Halasana and Karnipadasana and then go back for variations of shoulderstand? My low-back started to bother me a little when I did the shoulderstand variations so I came out of it. This shoulderstand sequence gave me a rush of calm. Belly Turning Pose (Jatara Parivartanasana) provided just the counterpose I needed post shoulderstand. I felt such relief and expansion of the spine in that twist.

Pranayama at the end has once again left me in a state of steady calm. I felt like meditating after so I did for about 5 minutes. But then I remembered that I wanted to finish this before my daughter woke up. Even so, after today's practice I feel an almost tactile quietude.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Week 10 - Jenny

Whew!  Same sequence as Week 9.  Exhilarating, freeing, opening, prana-flowing.  I feel great.

In one of his other books, Yoga Wisdom and Practice, Mr. Iyengar explains that the serenity you feel in  Plow Pose (Halasana) means that you are meditating in the pose (asana).  "In Halasana, the mind is not distracted from the body or from the soul and that is known as fullness."  I actually always liked how Mr. Iyengar calls yoga meditation.  He allows meditative states in positions other than Full Lotus (Padmasana).  I love it.  I do the usual listening to the breath.  Being embodied during meditation - noticing what's going on with my body - brings something different to the meditative state.  Different than if I meditate sitting cross-legged.  Not better or worse, just different.

I can actually feel myself getting excited as I get close to the inversions portion of the sequence.  It comes right after the core work and it's such a switch going from holding Half Boat Pose (Ardha Navasana) right into Shoulderstand (Salamba Sarvangasana).  All this energy and work and then an upside down hold.  My head throbs gently and I enter calm world.  I like the extension of the inversions - adding Ear Pressure Pose (Karnipadasna) and One-Legged Shoulderstand (Eka Pada Sarvanagasana).  More time upside down in another world, a lighter, freer world.  And the final spinal twist - bliss.  I had so much prana flowing through my rib cage that a deeper twist happened in this pose - Jatara Parivartanasana, which translates to something like 'Belly Turning Pose.'  I could feel my insides getting massaged.  Ah.

My back and chest are so open.  There weren't any backbends in the sequence, so I have to credit prana with the opening.  I mean, certainly the chest and back are opened in this sequence, but the feeling I have right now is akin to have done a few renditions of full wheel and a bunch of psoas stretching poses.  The poses in the sequence immediately get prana flowing through the body - from the very first pose, Extended Triangle (Utthita Trikonasana).  After that, more opening and grounding through the feet in the standing poses, then side opening in Gate Pose, then invigoration through the vira rasa (summoning power and strength) of the core series, then inversions.  Then a twist.  Then, of course, Ujjayi pranayama in Corpse Pose (Savasana).  Ariana's right- that puffing of the chest on the inhales creates a little pop of a stretch of the intercostals, the muscles that attach the ribs to each other, and the other accessory breathing muscles.  So this opening of the chest and back started with working from the outside - stretching muscles, etc.  And then it transitioned to an opening from the inside - through the breath - the prana cruises through the lungs and the lungs push out the ribcage - back and front.  Opening from the inside.  Wow.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Week 9 - Ariana

Yes I am behind with this one. I missed my entry for last week so I will be posting weeks 9 and 10 this week. woo hoo.

I jumped ahead to see what poses and sequences are coming down the road. I know I should not do this because the last time I did I had second thoughts. It happened again. I started to think I was crazy for even thinking I could do this. I thought, how am I going to stick with this? A little voice said to just do what I can.

And then when I was in Gate Pose (Parighasana) on the right side and could not get much more than my heel on the floor, I started to chuckle that this is even stressing me out. What does it matter? I do what I can and that is enough. And then I laughed again when I tried the pose on the left and was able to not only get my foot on the floor, but do the full pose on that side. Ah, how I love the asymmetries of the body. I can't figure this stuff out.

For some reason my effort was easy today. Maybe because I did the sequence at night. I felt relaxed but strong too.

I decided to use a strap for my shoulderstand today to help keep the elbows from splaying out. It helped me relax the muscles in my shoulders and neck. I guess I grip there usually because I am so intent on keeping the elbows in. Because I released my shoulder and neck muscles I was able to get my spine more vertical this time. It was delicious. The strap helped me forget about my elbows so I could put the effort elsewhere - my feet. The result was more lift and more verticality.

Mr. Iyengar describes Ujjayi as "the process in which the lungs are fully expanded and the chest puffed out like that of a proud warrior." I do not puff my chest when I use ujjayi throughout my practice, but in this Savasana exercise Mr. Iyengar says to fill the lungs up to the brim without bloating the abdomen. He says that the entire abdominal area from the pubes up to the breast-bone should be pulled back towards the spine. This directs more air up into the lungs- the spaces that we don't usually get to in breathing. He suggests to keep the "grip" on the abdomen on the exhale. It occurred to me while doing this that the purpose of this might be to stretch and strengthen all the little muscles between the ribs in order to increase capacity for air and prana. I learned recently that prana rides on air. They travel together.

Ujjayi pranayama while in Savasana is so centering and leaves a feeling of clarity in the mind and lungs. I mentioned before that Mr. Iyengar says this is the only pranayama exercise which can be done at all times of the day and night. I can attest to that. I have tried it in the morning, afternoon and now night. Right now it is my favorite part of these sequences. I look forward to this every time.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Week 9 - Jenny

Wow.  Mr. Iyengar added a few surprises to the mix in Week 9.  First, how I feel.  I feel balanced, calm, grounded, wrung out, free.  I feel ready to take on the world, but less in a Spartan soldier kind of way and more in an unteeterable (I know that's not a word, but I needed it) Buddhist monk kind of way.  I feel like I can walk through hurricanes and malls without getting blown over.  I feel like I can support others with my calm power.  I feel like drinking some carrot juice.

Back to earth.  I'm not sure what the reason for all the new feelings is.  Mr. Iyengar adds a few poses to the sequence that contribute.  For one, Gate Pose (Parighasana).  A deep side bend.  I can't possibly reach my upper arm to my foot like Mr. Iyengar does in the photos.  But that's okay.  The stretch from the pelvis up and over to the side is quite intense and somewhat shocking.  And I thought I was getting an intense side stretch in Triangle (Trikonasana).  Gate Pose takes it to a different place - rather than lengthening through the side, you are bending to the side deeply.  I have to believe this pose, along with others, accounts for the wrung out feeling.

This sequence is interesting.  Mr. Iyengar starts with the standing poses as usual.  Warrior III (Virabhadrasana III) and Half Moon Pose (Ardha Chandrasana) are here as they were last week - adding difficult and intense balances to the standing sequence.  Then the core work (same as last few weeks), which I come out of feeling like I could kick someone's ass.  Then to the calm-provoking inversions - Shoulderstand (Salamba Sarvangasana I) and Plow (Halasana).  This week Mr. Iyengar added Karnapidasana (sorry, no English translation), like Plow but with the knees bent and placed by the ears.  He also added Single Leg Shoulderstand (Eka Pada Sarvangasana), a variation on Shoulderstand ('Eka Pada' meaning 'one-sided') where you bring one leg down to Plow while the other stays as in Shoulderstand.  I came out of this inversion sequence with that Buddhist monk feeling - all calm and clear, yes, clear - in my mind and in my body.  Also added this week is a final spinal twist laying on the back, similar to the one most teachers introduce to beginner yoga students, but with both legs straight.  Of course, this joins Gate Pose in providing the wrung out feeling.

Lastly, Ujjayi pranayama in Corpse Pose (Savasana) with retention of the breath on the inhale, "for a second or two."  And I came out of Savasana feeling so free.  Free from tension, free from worries, just free.

I have to give a shout out to one more new pose this week - Revolved Side Angle (Parivrtta Parsvakanasana).  I never thought I'd say this in this blog, but WTF??  In this version, Mr. Iyengar has you wrap the lower arm over the front leg, pressing the armpit to the knee.  SO this requires more twist to even get into the pose, but also more bend into the front leg so the hand can touch the floor.  And I can't figure out how to prop this hand with a block.  You need to get that arm over the leg and bend that leg enough to get the armpit to touch the knee.  Hard to explain, but try it sometime (check the link for the pose to see this version of it).  With more flexibility in the spinal twist and more ability to bend that front leg while keeping the back foot on the floor, this will eventually be achieved.  I can see in the photos that even Mr. Iyengar has trouble keeping his back foot planted - and he can do anything.  So this pose is a new goal of mine.  And the journey, as always, will reveal more than I ever knew.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Week 8 - Ariana

Today I have Samskara on my mind. The glossary definition in Light on Yoga is "mental impression of the past." I have also heard Samskara defined as unconscious habits of the body and mind of which we can become aware through self-study.

Yoga offers many tools for such self-study. How do we react to stress; how do we stand; how do we sit; how do we eat? How do we do our asanas (poses)?

We get used to practicing the poses in specific ways and with certain teachers and we tend to think that is THE WAY to do the poses. We tend to do poses the same way over and over again preferring the path of least resistance. Sometimes it is useful to change the factors in order to yield new results.

I am out of my comfort zone this week - out of town without my mat, my wood floor, my props, my music, and my environment. I am in 80 degree weather after a week of cold rain in NYC. I am using a thin travel mat placed on top of a carpeted floor. Yikes. Needless to say the poses felt different than usual and I felt out of sorts.

I like to use three blankets for my shoulderstand to protect my neck. Today I did not have my blankets but I still did the shoulderstand and could not lift up as much and could not stack the hips and feet above the shoulders. My back was rounding more than usual and I felt an over stretching in my neck muscles. It did not hurt, but the pose felt crunched up and constricted. I still prefer doing it on the blankets but it is good to try it different ways sometimes in order to check in.

I also usually like to use blocks for the standing poses. They help me find space in the torso so I can twist more in poses like Trikonasana and Parsvakonasana. But I did not need blocks today. Maybe my body is more open and limber from the heat. Or maybe my blocks have become crutches in the poses.

Today I feel centered but slightly fatigued - I think because I am not used to the heat.

It is good to shake things up and see what happens.