Sarah got up early for Prasant so I had a very quiet and peaceful morning of solitude to practice and reflect. I felt the strength and presence come back into my practice today after a month of inexplicable weakness - a great sense of relief to be back in my body. As I was coming back from morning trip to buy fruit and veg, I bumped into Nina, who invited Sarah and I to lunch along with Jenny and Wendy from London - we had a completely delicious meal and an enjoyable distraction from the daily routine. We are the very last guests that will stay with Nina and Manu as they have sold the house and are expecting to move to another part of town next month - the end of an era after so many years of hosting and befriending students from the institute.
Raya's class this evening was fast paced and dynamic (not at all like our dreamy, slow pranayama preparation back home) and after taking us through many preparatory poses, including padmasana in sirsasana and drop-backs into dwi pada viparita dandasana and lots of work in uttana padma mayurasana (or Iyengarasana, as there is a petition to rename it in honour of Guruji) we led down for savasana on a bolster at the end of class. He told us that he wasn't going to teach us pranayama as such, only let the preparation that had worked on the structure of the body, naturally culture the breath. I found that I was in an extremely peaceful, restful savasana and that the breath spontaneously transformed into a pure and effortless ujayii as he talked to us about asana. He told us that asanas should be like birds, the ones that soar high in the sky – the eagles, kites, hawks – how they barely flap their wings, they gain the height and just catch the currents, spread their wings wide and soar. When we are beginners we are more like the low flying birds, how they have to flap their wings frantically to fly. We need to gain the height, catch the air currents and float over it.
Thanks to Lydia for notes and Wendy for photo.
25th October – Raya Pranayama (well sort of)
Padmasana for invocation Release facial skin with your exhalation. Find the hard bone under the trapezius and release that downward.
Keep forehead on the floor and extend arms forward, palms facing floor and lift the arms up. Keep legs fully extended, metatarsels pressing and absolutely no looseness in the legs.
Then forehead still down extend arms back alongside the body, palms facing each other, shoulder bones rolling back. Upper arms higher and higher, then side body gets a lift (head still down). Side ribs get an expression, chest full not hollow.
Place hands like bhujangasana but not lifting abdomen up at all. Demo on stage. As legs draw back (“Extraordinarily firm”) you have to kind of drag abdominal body (not lifted from floor) forwards so that it gets longer and longer. Eyes look up. Feel what happens to the abdominal muscles there. Abdomen length, drag forward, sides of navel long.
Place hands further back closer to bottom waist. Open fingers and knuckles, move forwards from torso not legs. Legs hold completely firm and like you are hopping torso forward, without lifting off floor, find that length.
Don’t keep thigh on sticky mat, better if it is on the floor so that it doesn’t get caught there. This pose is about front groin length – observe how the knee has to lift slightly up off floor and lengthen away from the root of the thigh to open there. Frontal thigh not caught. Bring left forearm across chest and bend right leg up without allowing abdomen to slip back, keep that same lengthening forward. Don’t allow knee to splay wildly out, but don’t keep it completely inside either, it should not be in baddha konasana. Keep tailbone pressed in to lengthen the thigh, don’t shrink lumbar – torso forward, not towards pelvic area, Shoulder blades level, torso not twisted, both shoulder blades going down. Press hand and foot down, floor if you can reach.
Start with chin on the floor. Bend up the legs, thumb and index finger on metatarsal, look at ceiling, revolve hands, press and breathe - incase you are wondering why bhekasana – yes we are preparing for pranayama but your supta virasana will be horrible without proper preparation in Bhekasana. Abdomen spreads.
Flat and arms extended over head if you can. Don’t take equipment but just rest on the elbows if you can’t go fully down. What is the length of frontal thighs? Width of abdomen? Length of lumbar?
Padmasana (if not poss repeat ardha bhekasana and bhekasana) Supta Padmasana and then prone padmasana pump the buttock crease in, pump the groins closer to the floor. Fold the elbows head side and lift elbows and knees off the floor! Activate the big toes on the floor, extend the outer edges of the feet and push the big toes to raise the knees off the floor. What kind of back body? Filament gets heated. Use big toes very effectively to lift up – lift head and chest also – if you can levitate! Simhasana straighten the arms and lift the chest, look up, roll the head back to extend the throat, open the mouth and extend the tongue.
Here several pieces of equipment were set up around the room for you to take a go whenever a spot became available in no particular order.
Uttana Padma Mayurasana Variation - arms extended. Lie ‘wrong way’ over backbender, with arms catching the far end and legs in padmasana over the curve of the bench, lengthening down further and further to increase frontal groin opening.
Tall stool close to wall with bolster on top, supported urdhva dhanurasana, knees / shins lengthening down the wall, arms extending over and walking down the front legs of the stool.
Standing bhujangasana at wall, climbing pubic up the wall – first palms on wall, legs straight, then hands on back thighs.
Rope dorsal curvature. Ropes hanging from ceiling in dorsal, standing back arch, coiling over rope with elbows folded weight to help you roll over more. Same action could be done on horizontal bar that crosses in front of window, so you were hanging out of window backwards. Trestler also same.
Uttana Padma Mayurasana Variation. Padmasana back arch. Low stool with pillow on top. Lie over it far enough to head side, that you can pick your feet up and put them in padmasana and you are balanced between two sides. Dorsal coiling with the weight of folded elbows downward on one side, padmasana legs rolling down towards floor the other side.
Supported Kapotasana low setu bendha bench, legs in virasana, buttocks / back thighs lifted up off the floor – pump the buttocks upwards – coiling over the narrow setu bandha bench, hands walking towards feet side.
Supta Virasana / kapotasana / paryankasana variation toes up on 2 bolsters set horizontally behind you. Pump buttocks up off bolster. Elbows on floor and crown of head on floor, coiling action in dorsal. Frontal thighs should shout!
After all these variations were completed, we returned to bhekasana to find out what improvement had been brought about by these poses.
Sirsasana and choice of padmasana / pasrva padmasana or virasana / parsva virasana
Sirsasana drop back to dwi pada viparita dandasana and eka pada viparita dandasana
Urdhva Dhanurasana x 3
Setu bandha sarvangasana hands properly in sarvangasana position (take support for shoulders if neck a problem, take feet up wall if back a problem). Eka Pada setu bandha sarvangasana.
Ardha Halasana Take what support is available for toes – use platform, use wall. If back feels heavy do Eka pada and raise one leg straight upward.
Supta Virasana with vertical bolster and blanket – keep bolster to support top chest only, not lumbar.
Matsyasana with vertical bolster and blanket – throughout the class we have done pumping action. See here that you don’t pump to get the knees down, but find out what is release.
When you change the cross of the padmasana legs come and sit up on top of the bolster and then slide the shoulders over the far end so that you are in a mini setu bandha with legs in padmasana and shoulders rolling over to the floor.
Savasana 2 bolster support. Take legs wider to release fully. Find out what the poses – padmasana, bhekasana, matsyasana, urdhva dhanurasana – what the preparation you have done before, has done for the breathing, so that I am not going to teach you pranayama as such - but there is a kind of spontaneous, improvised breathing – so that the breathing pattern is not dictated, enforced from the outside, but it comes about from the changes that have been wrought on the structure of the body – where there was hardness of the body. Where the thighs got puffed up and how that could be released. It’s like when you want to conceive, there has to be appropriate timings, body and mind has to be prepared, body needs capacity to conceive and body needs that liveliness that yoga gives. It cannot be created with greed or just because you want more – we need to appreciate, have gratitude for that liveliness.
So I will not recommend how to breathe, without dictating, a natural breath occurs. Enquiry into structural and somatic breathing. Bodily breath. What is body while looking at the breath. Need to sufficiently observe. Chance for a kind of bird’s eye view is offered.
I have said many times before that asanas should be like birds, the ones that soar high in the sky – the eagles, kites, hawks – how they barely flap their wings, they gain the height and just catch the currents, spread their wings wide and soar. When we are beginners we are more like the low flying birds, how they have to flap their wings frantically to fly. We need to gain the height, catch the air currents and float over it.
Asanas are not about proximity but about intimacy. We concern ourselves with chest touching thighs in paschimottonasana – that is proximity. It gives us a sense of achievement – we do not achieve or own any asana. Instead sense of mind, sense of body, sense of intelligence need that intimacy with each other, so that each supports the other, each gives confidence to the other – body gives confidence to the mind, mind to body, breath animates, radiates, nourishes. There is a comfort involved. Not who is the Dictator, but a oneness, a singularity – Yoga is to come together so that we at least get glimpses of a sense of oneness and can appreciate that.