Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Iyengar Course 2 Week 37 (Ariana)

My husband's grandmother passed away on May 22nd. She was brilliant, inquisitive, loving and vibrant. She was 93 and had a better memory than I do. For instance, she recently reminded me of the first time we met - where, what day, what year. She had problems with her vision and yet always commented on my nice earrings. One of my last conversations with her was about yoga and my anatomy courses. She was always interested. She made me feel like part of the immediate family. We will all miss her.

I didn't feel like practicing much until the last few days. I approached week 36 with nonchalance - only because I did not want to let too much time pass. The practice felt good but my mind was elsewhere and sad. I warmed up with sun salutations and then went for Headstand and Shoulderstand. Headstand was unpleasant. I struggled to press up and resorted to kicking up. I felt too much pressure at the top of my head. This was a disappointment because recently I did it in the middle of an open field (with the help of a friend) and it felt great. Shoulderstand was better.

My husband and daughter came home to find me in half lotus in the living room. My daughter was SO excited that I was doing yoga and immediately came over and sat on my lotus lap. I thought it was going to hurt but her almost 5 year old body is still very light. She wanted to do the rest of the poses with me and asked me to put her purple mat next to mine. We did lion pose (Simhasana) together. I love that she knows this pose. She did Urdhva Dhanurasana for the very first time. She has tried to do  it before but actually was able to press up this time.  And then she wanted to watch a Charlie Brown video. I gave in as I thought it would allow me to finish the sequence. I did Savasana while listening to the theme song. Wasn't so bad. I did not feel like doing the pranayama - just didn't have the focus for it.

I am not feeling aligned with the Iyengar method lately.  I went to an Iyengar yoga class on Sunday, but did not enjoy it. I am questioning the reason behind many of the common instructions like "lifting the quadriceps" in standing poses and having the thigh of the bent leg parallel to the floor in some of the Warrior poses. The anatomy class is changing my perspective and that is a good thing. I think lifting the kneecaps and quads is encouraging my hyper extension of the knees. And when I try to get my left thigh parallel to the floor in Warrior 2 it aggravates my hip and hamstring.  I glanced around the room to look at everyone's tadasana after the teacher had finished the list of cues. And most people looked rigid and way too tense in the legs, shoulders and neck. Letting go of these kinds of instructions has been helping to make my practice more pleasant.


Claudia said...

Sorry about your husband's grandmother... your daughter is adorable!

Those are very interesting observations. I wonder what are you learning in the anatomy class that is making you see things different, I am curious...

I heard from a teacher once that the thighs paralell to the floor in warrior have more to do with the knee being at a 90 degree angle rather than the actual parallellness, then again a 90 degree angle would probably result on that. I do not remember his whole explanation but he said something to the effect that if the knee is too far backwards there could be some problems with the ligaments and same if the knee is too far forward...

As per the engaging of the quads in the standing poses, if it is resulting in hyper extension of your knees as you say then I would understand, maybe you are doing it a bit too hard?

ariana said...

Thank you Claudia! I appreciate your comments.

To be fair I am not finished with Jason Brown's anatomy class and don't feel versed enough to intelligently address the knee in warrior poses and whether or not it should be at 90 degrees.

Yes, I have heard about the parallel thigh thing being about achieving a 90 degree angle at the knee joint. Theoretically I guess it makes sense so you have even space around the knee joint. But that is very difficult for most people when the thigh is externally rotated. I don't think it is a universal cue that is good or possible for everyone. There are so many common restrictions - possibly in the fascia or tight muscles, or limitations of the ligaments, or maybe the shapes of the bones themselves would affect the range of motion. I think it is important to aim for the knee over the ankle for stability but not necessarily for 90 degrees at the knee.

Recently I have heard Iyengar teachers talk about achieving alignment in the body as if in a grid. Nothing about our body fits into a grid - why would we try to force that?

As for the lifting the quads thing - yes I probably am doing it too hard. I am trying to strike a balance with that - not too much ease and not too much effort (stira sukha asanam...)

Another action I am letting go of is shifting the weight back towards the heels in Tadasana. I hear that a lot too. A teacher pointed out to me that I was doing it so much that my toes were not grounded and were lifting up. The weight should be even in the fronts and backs of the feet - not only in the heel. I think that action was also contributing to my hyper extension of the knees.

Jason Brown (www.zenyasastudio.com) said...

Hi all --

Just thought I'd throw in my two cents. As far as the knee being 90 degrees in any of the Warrior poses, I don't personally feel that it is valuable or skillful to have that as a general rule. It is certainly more challenging than it would be to have it at less than 90, but other than it being more work, what is the value? I have never heard a compelling reason for why it would be safer to be at 90, and I have a pretty strong grasp of musculo-skeletal anatomy. If anything it would be less safe if a student doesn't have the flexibility or the strength to sustain 90 degrees (as there would be the potential for muscle strain, as well as a lack of ability to stabilize the spinal joints, pelvis and arches of the feet if working beyond one's capacity). For many people a little less than 90 is more than challenging enough, while for more advanced students working at 90 could be good. But it's all relative.

As far as knee hyperextension while engaging the quads in Tadasana... I would look at how you're contracting the quadriceps. Are you just trying to straighten the knee maximally through the contraction of the quads, and therefore going into hyperextension? Better would be to isometrically contract the quadriceps in coordination with the hamstrings, so that both the anterior and posterior thigh muscles firm up and add stability to the knee.

ariana said...

Thank you for the clarification Jason.

And I will pay close attention as to how I am contracting my quadriceps. I have not thought about contracting the hamstrings as well. But that would make sense to stabilize the knee in the front and the back.

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