Monday, June 28, 2010

Summer Solstice in Times Square

Ariana and I met last week at the intersection of 46th and Broadway for a yoga class.  We were celebrating (with 700 friends) the longest day of the year.  An awesome and interesting experience.  The theme was "Mind Over Madness."  So yes, there were taxis speeding by on both sides of the class, car horns, sirens, tourist buses and tons of people watching and taking pictures.  For me at least, the sounds didn't affect me much.  I was able to concentrate in the midst of it.  With the help of the 700 friends, it was easy.  Other senses were affected, though.  There were times when I was in a pose like Triangle (Trikonasana) where I came into the pose and found my alignment.  Then finalizing the pose, I looked up.  And I saw the tops of skyscrapers with the sky bright behind.  And it was beautiful.  And I knew there were people in those skyscrapers and people who built those skyscrapers and people on every floor all the way down to the street where we were.  Like a connection between us and the heavens.  Where else would you find a line of people that extends from a yoga class on the street 1,000 feet into the sky?  Not to mention the people on the subway below.

I really love the sense of community at an event like this.  I really like that aspect of yoga.  See Ariana's pictures on her post.

Week 19 - Jenny

Like the last sequence, I had to do this sequence twice to get it into my system.  It's SO different from anything thus far.  Well, there are some similarities.  I mentioned last time that Mr. Iyengar says you can do the standing asanas on alternating days or twice a week.  So this time he doesn't include them in the sequence.  The sequence starts with Headstand (Sirsasana) and Headstand variations, then goes directly to Shoulderstand (Sarvangasna) and Shoulderstand variations.  Then into core work and then all sitting poses.  I agree with Ariana - it is surprising that Camel Pose (Ustrasana) is the first backbend in the sequence.  And the placement of Floor Bow (Danurasana) seems early, too (before Virasana).  But I've been working with a notion lately of using the poses to stretch the various body parts.  It sounds simple.  But I do still work for completion of the pose.  And I believe I need to develop more flexibility in the chest and shoulders before really getting into Camel.  But this other perspective of using Camel to stretch the chest and shoulders allows me to back off of the goal.  The thing is, if you're way off, I have to think it's not time to try to pose yet.  But if you're on the edge, this perspective can get you further in your work.

Mr. I. adds a bunch of poses to this sequence that require flexibility in the hips and/or shoulders that I do not have yet.  Marichyasana II, with one leg in Virasana and one leg in Half Lotus, is quite impossible for me right now.  Half Lotus and I are not well acquainted yet.  And Virasana and I are just getting acquainted.  So adding a twist to the mix, not to mention the arm bind . . . well, you know.

But I was surprised, no, shocked at what I could do.  When I read the sequence, I thought - I can't do half of these.  But really Marichyasana II (Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi II) is the only one that I don't feel comfortable even attempting.  For one thing, I was able to bind the arm (grabbing hand to Half Lotus foot) in Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana (Half-Bound Lotus Seated Forward Bend).  I never would have guessed.  Since Shoulderstand and I don't get along as well as we should, I thought the variations would be impossible.  But I was able to balance with the arms overhead AND with the arms straight up in the air next to the legs.  It was wild.

And my weekly shout out goes to Chakrasana (Wheel Pose).  I have no freaking idea what this "pose" (it's a moving pose like Chatarunga) is all about.  It is a backward roll, as in gymnastics, except that you start in Plow (Halasana) and flip over from there.  I was squishing my neck to the point of pain when I was on the floor.  But a blanket assisted me and I flipped right over.  Which brings me to another point: having been a gymnast, I've fielded many questions, thoughts and dreamy comments from adults who want to be able to flip over.  Or be upside down.  Or something along those lines.  And there are a few poses in yoga that tap into that natural inclination that humans have to flip or to hold themselves upside down.  Handstand is the ultimate pose for so many yogis.  And it's not because it's difficult.  There are so many poses that are more difficult and more complicated than Handstand.  Yet it remains king.  You can see it in children.  Every kid tries cartwheels and handstands.  Unless fear has set in early, it's something to do on the grass every chance a kid gets.  I'm not sure what it all means.  I bet Mr. I. does.  Maybe I'll get to ask him someday.  Or maybe I'll let the answer come to me as so many have since I moved into a deep yoga practice.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Week 17 - Ariana

This practice is dedicated to the Gulf oil spill. It is weighing heavily on my mind. I am trying to understand why we cannot stop it and how we are going to be affected by it. How will we recover? I have been reading as much as possible and looking to the news for information. But I didn't feel that I was getting the whole story. I wanted to hear more from the people who actually live there. So I turned to youtube and facebook. In many ways I find the raw footage and commentary posted by individuals who are experiencing this to be more truthful.

Here are some that have stood out to me:

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

LOLOY AT TIMES Square Summer Solstice 2010

We took Alanna Kailvalya's class in the middle of Times Square to celebrate the Summer Solstice.

Let's just say it was hot.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Week 16 - Ariana

Yay deeper backbends like Ustrasana (Camel) and Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog). Ustrasana came before UMS (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana) in the sequence!??!

And Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) makes its first appearance - halfway through the sequence after UMS. Also perplexing because it is not taught in that order in most classes that I have attended.

Chatturanga is also here. He instructs to do it pressing up into it from the floor. But I am so used to doing it on my way down from Plank or UMS. I struggle so much with pressing up into Chatturanga. I always ending coming up in some sort of wave-like fashion rather than all at once.

I was out late last night with friends and felt wobbly in my practice today because of it.
I felt like I needed Sun Salutations but I stayed with the Iyengar sequence.

Today I was focused on opposing actions in the shoulder girdle and the pelvic girdle. Basically one rolls up while the other rolls down. More specifically - rolling my shoulders up and back while simultaneously rolling the tailbone down. I need these actions because I tend to stick my butt out too much and slump my shoulders forward and down. These actions helped me in so many of the poses today: Sirsasana, Adho Mukha Svanasana, UMS, Warriors 1, 2, 3, and Urdhva Prasarita Padasana. It was most dramatic while I was in warrior 3. Suddenly I felt anchored and light at the same time. That is probably the goal in all of the poses. I had trouble with the light or buoyant part of my practice today.

I am so used to Shoulder Stand being part of the wind down of my practice that I really did not want to do the abdominal exercises afterward. I wanted to go right into Savasana. But I persevered. I could not focus enough to do the Ujjayi in Siddhasana so I let go of that and just sat quietly for a few minutes.

I am still feeling sluggish but happy I practiced today.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Week 18 - Jenny

Week 18 says, "Repeat."  So I did.  I'm still amazed at how this sequence that was so difficult the first week has become routine.  Not easy, but routine.

I don't know what else to say.  His sequencing is profound.  This practice was so . . . complete.  My spine felt supple half way through.  Like I could bend forward and back again and again.  Mr. Iyengar says this week, "If you now find all the standing asanas are easy enough, you can do them on alternate days or twice a week."  I did them this time since I'm not doing this sequence every day (I do most of the standing poses daily as part of my own practice, though).  But it seems just the right time to delve deeper into the seated poses.  I have become quite efficient at the standing poses.  Not so much that they should be left behind, but to a point where I think the limitations that keep me from experiencing them further should be explored in the seated poses.

Note about Gate Pose (Parighasana):
Finding the hinge in the hip joint has made this pose possible for me.  It's like in Triangle (Trikonasana).  You know how some teachers have you reach forward "from the hips" before coming into the pose - I think that's there so you can find the hip hinge.  Once you get that forward hip pulled back (head of femur seated into the socket), you can hinge and there is space in the hip joint.  Same with Parighasana.  And if you look at Mr. Iyengar in the photo, you can see that he has hinged there and that it causes his torso to lean forward slightly.  I was under the impression that this pose should be done with the chest facing completely forward.  But that doesn't allow me into that hip joint.  Pulling back on the hip sets me right in place.  And the torso does lean forward some.  And the rest is breath to open up the side ribs.  And now I get the top hand to meet the bottom one every time.

I love this practice . . . 

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Week 15 - Ariana

I practiced first thing in the morning today. Well, after I walked the dog, but before I ate anything or drank my coffee. I don't like to eat before I practice. However, I do need to eat in the morning. As a result, I was not mentally focused or particularly lively. I was not tired, just not energetic.

The sequence felt long today. Starting with headstand was a surprise to my system. I felt blood rushing towards my head. At first it felt jarring and then it calmed down. While I was in Prasarita Padottanasana I noticed dog hair scattered all over the floor. The pose provided the perfect vantage point. I was so annoyed by this. I thought about getting up and sweeping the floor, but then I decided it was best to finish the practice and sweep later. Then I fixated on the dog hair on my mat. It's so hard to get it off. By the time I got to the abs section of the sequence I settled back into the practice. For Urdhva Prasarita Padasana I focused on gathering into the midline from head to toe before I lifted my legs. As a result, I felt more integrated in my core.

In Janusirsasana I felt a yummy stretch from the bent leg and up that side of the body - especially in the kidney area. I felt like I needed that kidney stretch for some reason.

My left hamstring was very tight again today.

I didn't have as profound an experience in Savasana Pranayama. At first I tried to replicate last week's experience but it did not feel right. I did feel a holding of prana on some of the inhalation retentions. Instead of focusing it on certain areas of the body, I felt it spread out throughout my body from the center, radiating out.

Today I dedicated my practice to the Gulf oil spill disaster and all those suffering from it. We are all suffering from this in some way and will continue to do so for a long time.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Week 17 - Jenny

Much different than last week.  I moved through the poses in quick, steady succession, melding them together the way Iyengar meant them to be (or at least I think so).  This past week I've been adding some of the new poses to my daily practice.  I find that it helps when I do the practice the following week.  It also helps me memorize the sequence so that I can keep flowing rather than stopping to look in the book.

Again, I felt such clarity after the practice.  I can clearly see where I need work from a physical perspective.  But also my mind is clear.  My body has moved through strengthening and lengthening standing poses, flexed through seated poses, and chugged through challenging holds.  I was upside down for a good portion of the practice, so I'm grounded and clear and I've looked at things from a different perspective.  I am an ujayii breath - victorious, flowing and open.  And there's that feeling again - everything's going to be okay.

I'm really starting to fly in these sequences.  Just this week, my top hand found my bottom one in Gate Pose (Parighasana).  The more intense Janu Sirsasana that was recently added to the sequence has created that extra stretch in the lower side back that allows for the deeper Parighasana.  I never practiced Janu Sirsasana with the bent leg pulled way back beyond 90 degrees to the straight leg.  It requires much more length in the lower side back (depending on what side I'm on) - and it's this length that brought me into Parighasana.  It feels great to be able to do a pose that was so beyond me only a few weeks ago.  That's an interesting thought on practice - the more intense pose that I cannot complete creates an opening that allows me into a less intense pose.  Without working Janu Sirsasana, would I ever have found this Parighasana?  Probably, but it would take longer.  And sometimes that's the path I need to take to prevent injury.  But with that awareness I tried out Janu Sirsasana.  And I didn't hurt myself.  And it allowed me into Parighasana.  And I like it.

To victory . . .

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Week 14 - Ariana

All that talk about continuing with the week 12 sequence for a while until I felt steady in it... I was totally inspired today to do the next sequence for week 14 instead of repeating the last one. I saw that it starts with headstand and I really wanted to do that.

My practice felt different today. I just wanted to get into the poses and not read Mr. Iyengar's instructions at all. I was focused on lines of force in the body in each pose. What moves up, down, in, out, and to the sides. In all of the poses there are forces that move in direct opposition to each other in order to create balance and stability or steadiness and ease. Stira Sukham Asanam.

I had a cool experience while in the Savasana Pranayama. Suddenly on the inhalation retention I felt prana or energy being held in the body. Then I started playing with it and concentrating the prana in certain areas of the body with mental concentration. So I directed it to different energy centers in the body that I have read about. I don't know much about chakras other than where they are located. I directed it first to the third eye or ajna chakra then to the root chakra. Then I sent it through all the chakras from the bottom up. As I did that I visualized the colors corresponding to each one. It was a spontaneous experiment. It happened when I let go and stopped trying to control the breath so much. Even though pranayama is about gaining control of the breath I felt it had to be balanced with an element of letting go. I let the inhales and exhales come and go like waves. I caught the wave on the inhalation retention and then let it go again. While I was retaining it I was playing with the prana. I might have to try that again.

After I let go I realized that the body has its own wisdom. The challenge is letting the mind be subservient to it and trusting it - to drop out of the mind and the illusion that we can control everything. Sometimes we have to give in to the wave of fate and see what is presented to us before we try to create something.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Week 16 - Jenny

So I did this sequence on Wednesday, but I didn't write.  I was busy that day and I ended up splitting the practice in two and I didn't feel right about that.  So I did it again today.

Let's see . . .

You know, that sequence on paper doesn't look that different from last week's, but it felt so different.  For one thing, it felt really long.  Not while I was in the poses or anything - I stayed pretty well focused - but it just kept going and going and going.  At this point the standing poses fly by.  I remind myself of alignment and find myself in some sort of free space pretty quickly.  I've become quite efficient in the standing poses, which Mr. Iyengar says will happen around this time.  This week adds Chair Pose (Utkatasana) and Standing Split to the standing series.  So pretty quickly I was down on the floor.

My. Iyengar's sequencing of the backbends is quite the opposite of what I was taught or what I'd expect.  He does Locust (Shalabasana) first, then Floor Bow (Danurasana), then Chatarunga Dandasana (not a backbend, but I wanted to list the whole series), then Cobra (Bhujangasana I), then Virasana, then Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana).  I expected Cobra to come first, working from the lower back up.  Then to Locust, then Danurasana.  And I usually do Virasana to stretch the quads before Danurasana.  In his sequence, Locust comes first, being the shallower backbend.  Then things go deeper, but I don't know why Virasana comes where it does.  I'll keep studying it.

Anyway, this is the first week where Mr. I. calls for Ujayii breath in Siddhasana rather than in Corpse Pose (Savasana).  Which means that it's the first time since the early sequences that I did a Savasana without doing pranayama (breath exercises).  It was nice after such a long sequence to take a plain old Savasana.  I did some body-scanning as a I lay there and I worked on releasing resistance.

Did Ujayii for 5 minutes in Siddhasana.  I like how Mr. I. has you do Siddhasana as a pose in the sequence, then has you add the Ujayii.  This gave me a chance to work on the pose - to study his notes.  There's a whole 2 page discussion of Siddhasana quoting ancient scripts like the Hatha Yoga Pradipika saying you will reach a bliss state if you practice this pose (and eat a moderate diet).

I came out of the practice with a feeling of clarity.  And groundedness.  This work is so deep that I come out of it rather hazy.  I mentioned this before - it reminds me of my first days of yoga classes - and of when I have new students who have that dazed look after class.  There is an invigoration after the standing poses - my eyes are wide.  The upside down sequence has become really long - tons of variations on Shoulderstand (Salamba Sarvangasana I) and Plow (Halasana).  And this week Mr. I. put the upside downs after the backbends and down dog, which put them before the core work - Navasana, etc.  Maybe this is one of the reasons the practice seemed so long - the upside downs used to be at the end of the sequence, so maybe I'm expecting the sequence to end, but then there's more.  After the core work, some forward bends.  And this week adding Porvottanasana, a pose I cannot conquer yet.  My shoulders are tight in that direction and so are my arms, so I hold as long as I can and feel an intense stretch up my arms.  I am attempting to gain range of motion in this direction through some supported Bridge work.  Eventually I'll get there.

I wish I could sum things up better.  But I'm still kind of unsure about it all.  But the deeper my practice goes, the more I accept that feeling.  I am here to observe it.  That's all.  And so I watch.