Ah yes backbends are truly upon us, how lovely to have a backbend class every day. I spent the day in reflective mode - this month has felt like a personal programme tailored just to suit my needs. Each class has focussed in on something I need to work on; hips, groins, buttock suction, folding the legs into padmasana in sirsasana, building up the spinal / gluteal strength to drop back from tadasana to urdhva dhanurasana or ustrasana to kapotasana, alignment in inversions and how allowing one side to become dominant pushes the other side outward. Amazing!
Every now and again I check my alignment, by taking a video to see the outward presentation and I was dismayed to see my sirsasana, after all my work, is still not correct - what I think I'm doing and what I am doing are two completely different things. I suspected as much when Sunita gave me a particularly penetrating stare when roasting us for bringing the legs forward in sirsasana last week. So not to be deterred I spent some time working on the virasana in sirsasana correction Abhi gave last night and as you can see in second pic, it is improving.
The word went around that Navaz would be teaching a bonus pranayama class at 4pm for anyone who would like to attend, even if they had done, or were doing, another class, so happily I skipped off. It was a particularly warm and comforting session - you can just tell that she is dearly wanting to impart this knowledge of Guruji and Geetaji's pranayama. As I was doing two classes back to back, I did not attempt to remember Navaz's class for blogging, there's only so much my brain can hold onto and I knew I'd need the capacity for Abhi's later class!
She told us stories of the early days when there was no RIMYI and they had to beg for space in this hall or that school to practice, reguarly being moved on and no props, only one 20 rupee blanket that had to be used for absolutely everything. Her deep, resonating voice, lulled more than one into an afternoon nap, but we did some beautiful pranayama both supine and seated and then surrendered into the lap of Mother Earth in our final savasana with at least 2 bolsters on the thighs to pacify the brain. One particularly helpful instruction today came in the anta kumbhak where we had to retain the breath at the top of the inhalation, not holding it with the throat (which should be soft and move back) but with the diaphragm.
It was hard to get into gear for Abhi's dynamic backbend class which followed, but it was good to have that slightly mellower attitude to begin with, as it ranked right up there among the toughest classes I have ever done. Particularly challenging was being asked to stay in dwi pada viparita dandasana regardless of which monsters reared their heads. We were asked to stay and face them and find out what would happen (unless our heart was going to stop, then she conceded, we could come down). Now as already mentioned, this is something that I personally really need to work on, as I'm always pretty brief in this pose, inhale go up, experience a few moments of mental anguish, exhale and come down! What I found by staying and staying and staying and then staying some more, facing the monsters was this: 1) A little back strain, which I never get and this was good learning, to know what it feels like and to find out how long it lasts and which of the standard releasing methods actually soothed 2) The second time I went up after the first marathon I was completely quiet - literally in that I wasn't making all the drama, squeaking, moaning and groaning and also total brain quiet. Interesting.
This courage on the part of the teacher, instils courage on the part of the student to break some barriers and learn something new. Would this be considered acceptable teaching in the UK? Probably not. Am I grateful for it? Undoubtedly.
Apologies for the lack of photos today, I usually try to avoid my own asana pictures - perhaps some fellow RIMYI'ers would like to share some of their best Pune photos with me to share with the wider community? I'm excited to go to bed tonight, as I've bought a soft mattress to use as a topper, for the bargain price of 450 rupees (about a fiver). I've discovered over the years, the posher the apartment, the harder the blinking bed and since this is such a lovely apartment, the bed is pretty solid .....
Abhijata – February 20th 2020 - Backbends
Swastikasana invocation - Like a plant – the roots have to reach down into the earth, but everything else, the sapling reaches up towards the rays of the sun. Let the mind go to each vertebrae and see that it is ascending. The problem with modern culture today is that the mind has become disconnected from the body, so Guruji gave physical asana to connect the mind and the body together. Ultimately we want the heart and the mind to get connected, but first we make a start with connecting mind and body.
Uttanasana – Spread the hands wide apart so that the shoulder blades can spread like the wings of a bird. Giving the space for the neck and shoulders so that the head / brain can release and become quiet. When the brain is quiet it is better able to perform it’s function, which is to observe and make the appropriate response. Let the legs widen so that the inner leg goes to the outer leg and abdomen / spine can release. If spine is heavy, brain is heavy, so recharge the legs to release the spine and mind becomes light.
Adho Mukha Svanasana – Back has to be fully light and ascending so that head and neck can come down. Maintain length on the sides of the neck and width of the shoulders.
Prasarita Paddottonasana – Abdominal area gets space, we know that there is a strong connection between the abdomen and brain, so inner thighs back and spread the groins for abdomen soft and wide. The brain’s job is to receive incoming information from the senses, quiet brain functions optimally to observe all parts of the body.
12 minute sirsasana – As a beginner there is no comfort in sirsasana, but Guruji has taught us techniques to remove the discomfort. Dorsal lifted and in, to remove the heaviness from the neck, legs extended to keep the heaviness from the spine etc but as experienced practitioners we should not need these instructions to be given by the teacher – at this level you should know what must be done. Become sensitive to what is happening – what happens when I lift my shoulders? What happens when I relax my shoulders? Do they both behave evenly? Observe what are the problems and then search the solutions by tracing the source of the problem. Guruji taught that discipline and purity must come from within. Humans are extremely reactive. A Yogi doesn’t immediately react – we have to pause- trace the root of the problem and learn to navigate through the problems. You cannot maintain everything just from strength alone, power is not the answer for everything! Turn groins inward and take them back so that the legs don’t harden, throat shouldn’t harden – moment body becomes hard, brain becomes hard and that causes us to sweat. With time the 7th cervical becomes heavy and you want to come down. Lift it UP and INTO the body – tell yourself you will go through the challenge- be positive! For the first 2 minutes my lecture was interesting, now you are distracted, you want to come down. So bring the mind back to the body – make the interlock grip firm but don’t crush the fingers – the same way you hold a baby, you don’t want the baby to fall, so the grip is firm, but you don’t want to crush the baby! Find out what brings you down, sometimes it’s body problem, sometimes it the mind – mind complains to the senses, senses complain to the mind – Pause. Breath. Remain.
Adho Mukha Virasana
Adho Mukha Vrksasana – Feel how this is a different AMVrksasana after the long stay in sirsasana, it is not an excitable AMVrk. Feel how there is a different kind of stability, the mind is focussed. Observe that and ascend the entire borders of the body. If the joints are loose you cannot be focussed – Join the legs and contract the buttocks – be focussed!!
2 Groups. The group that is in the supported pose, breathing will be softer. Active pose, breathing will be more laboured. If you are unable to breathe, open the mouth and breathe. If you don’t breathe in any pose, headache will come. When we swapped - the group that did the chair work has some freedom in the anterior spine – feel what that brings to the urdhva dhanurasana. The group that did urdhva dhanurasana has the advantage of posterior contraction, find out what that contributes to the chair work.
Group 1 –
1) Chair viparita dandasana with a sticky mat folded in 4 and then rolled into a tight roll for the centre spine. Find out how you can change the position on the chair to cultivate different areas of the spine. Legs extended straight. Be soft in the abdomen so that you can breathe there. Extend the arms over head and from the hips to the heels, extend legs side and from the hips to the fingertips extend arms side. How can you unfold the body in both directions? Back of the upper arms have to be moved IN to the shoulder sockets.
2) Undo the roll and fold sticky mat into four. Go through the chair, legs bent. Lift up and move the tailbone and lumbar one direction and coil dorsal in the other, to place yourself down. Sacrum curvature – so you are keeping the legs bent and coming much further over the chair, head to the floor, but the heels you have to PRESS. The centre of the diaphragm is bulky – exhale and let that area descend, centre abdomen down. Heels down and arms overhead with the palms on the ground.
3) Chair kapotasana – Bring the feet inside the cross bar between the back legs of the chair. After some time here, those that could, had to place their toes on the cross bar between the front legs of the chair. Some people had a large gap between the lumbar and the chair and they had to come up and use blankets to fill that gap. Lumbar has to rest on the chair otherwise diaphragm will puff, so take support where it is needed.
Group 2 –
1) Urdhva Dhanurasana – Now don’t push actively into the brain, let the sides of the neck gravitate down, lightness in the face while the hips are lifting up. How to keep the body activated and yet still softness there. Push the weight towards the feet, be on the LEGS side.
2) Now keep crown of the head down. Press the feet and lengthen the buttocks away, Inject the back of the arms into the socket and lift dorsal up so much that the head is light, take the 7th cervical in, coming more onto the forehead if you want, can the throat be free? X 2
3) Push up to urdhva dhanurasana and then bend the elbows and come onto the crown of the head. Now divide – lift the buttock up and lengthen lumbar in one direction and coil dorsal in the other, (head came deeper inside) draw the upper arm bones deep into the shoulder sockets and push back up into urdhva dhanurasana X 2
4) Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana – Now today you are going to STAY in this pose. You are going to do some sightseeing within. Monsters will come – your neck may pain, back may pain, knees may pain but unless your heart is going to stop, you are going to stay and at least face these monsters for some time. Whatever monsters may come, you are going to stay and face them and find out what happens., stay and observe what is complaining, why is complaining X 2
5) Prone savasana for a minute or so to recover followed by AMSvanasana – do not push the ribs, the head down, only ascend to release the back. LIFT the sides of the body UP. Uttanasana and repeat AMSvanasana.
Now the chair group, put chairs away - Setubandha, hands in the back chest (no brick) feet on the wall so that pelvis is horizontal and eka pada setubandha.
The urdhva dhanurasana group, gather the thick mats for sarvangasana. Now in sirsasana we stayed for 12 minutes, here also you have to learn to stay quietly.
Both groups had to lift the palms higher up the back to create the chest lift and both groups had to let the throat rest on the bed of the neck.
Both the poses have their own flavours. What are the flavours? Sarvangasana is the Mother of the asanas, cooling, calming, quietening. Setu bandha is more active, stimulating, more contracted. The eka pada variation should be learnt before the dwi pada. In eka pada there is more freedom, less weight on the palms, wrists.
When we changed – each group has had a different menu, one group setubandha appetiser and sarvangasana main course. The other group has had sarvangasana appetiser and setubandha main course. Notice the benefits to each pose. Sarvangasana is bringing the quality of quietness to setubandha. Feel that. Setubandha is bringing alertness, mental freedom to sarvangasana. What has been lost, what has been gained. A good teacher has to have a good imagination, based on their experience.
Savasana – minimum of movement to get into a comfortable position for savasana. LIGHTS OFF a “moonlight savasana”.