As the month of classes starts to draw to a close, the cumulative effects are showing in my body. Abhi's class began today with a looong uttanasana with elbows folded, creating more and more release to flow downwards and I was a little startled for the first time ever, to find my wrists brushing the floor! There followed a sequence of restorative poses with her usual mix of anecdotes from Guruji and Geetaji and experiential learning, where we were given the opportunity to feel each teaching point so that it was understood in our bodies as well as our minds. Sequence below.
I'm ready now to go home. Travelling alone this trip, has given me plenty of time for reflection and I'm ready to pick up the mantle of responsibility (Motherhood and Teacherhood) once more. It's genuinely wonderful to be a student rather than a teacher for a month, but I also feel curiously impotent - standing on the sidelines in medical for example. My (our) whole purpose in life is to help other people and so we need be where we are needed! Generally in medical classes there is a surplus of helpers and I'm just not pushy enough for that kind of environment - If help is needed I'll be at the front of the queue, but I have no wish to 'elbow my way in' at all.
I arrive home on Sunday having lost a night's sleep en route and then begin teaching again on Monday. Don't be surprised if I seem a little sleepy in class as the first class will begin at 11.30pm 'my time' and the second will finish at 3.30am!
Abhijata – 26th February 2020 – Restorative
Swastikasana invocation – Sit straight, sit tall and close your eyes. Make the preparations to bring yourself to the right state for class so that brain becomes receptive – leave behind your morning’s chores. Inhale in such a manner that you are energised and exhale in such a manner that you wash the brain. Make the trapezius muscle thin and release down there so that the neck is free – if the shoulders come up, this loads the brain and there can be no clarity of though with this load. So let there be a new beginning – Guruji has taught us that every day we must start afresh – each day he did a new trikonasana and he never become bored, as in his words "There was always something new to learn". If Guruji himself took this approach then we too should not shy away from accepting that this is a raw beginning. If the brain always dictates what must be done - what must come next in life - we lose that receptivity, sensitivity so learn to be quiet there.
Uttanasana – very long stay - Elbows folded to release downwards (as opposed to other modes of doing when we might pull the body downwards). The front of the body with the exhalation, release and feel how that also benefits the back of the body. The back of the body with the exhalation release and feel how that benefits the front of the body. Find out where the body gets caught. Maybe hamstrings, maybe back muscles, abdominal region – legs may need to spread further, find out! And what happens with the inhalation? If I asked you to further release with the inhalation, a different action is felt from the abdomen.
AMSwastikasana forward bend to bolster, while waiting for the rest of the class to get themselves organised.
Janu Sirsasana – Head supported on bolster – Many of you are 'caught' shortening the left side of the waist. Correct that there, the left and the right waist should extend forward equally. Even the lower most portion of the back, can you come forward from there? Use the exhalation a little more forcefully to bring the sacrum and lower back forward, eveness in the sides of the trunk. Elbows wide, there should be no traffic jam at the base of the neck, release there. If the bent leg thigh comes up you cannot release the back – you may need to raise the seat a little higher for the thigh to go down and the back to release forwards. The lungs are on the back of the body as well as the front of the body (and Guruji was especially aware of the lungs action on the sides of the body too) so breathe there. This is why the forward bends are good for asthmatics, where the supine poses only further cause problems for the breathing. Backbends open the chest by contracting the back muscles (like when we are lifted up on a bolster), whereas forward bends open the back body for breathing.
Only if the lower back moves forward is it possible for you to mobilise the lower ribs, this part remains unused as also the last part of the brain is not used.
Repeat Janu Sirsasana with a prop – ideally holding slanting plank or similar – so that the hands can be much wider and feel how that spreading is possible. Feel the centre spine and how the paraspinal muscles spread – like a leaf – how it has that central line and the veins radiating out, in that manner spread. As the back is widening feel how that releases the sides of the diaphragm and you can move forward. Back becomes the leader now, it takes the centre stage for you to move forwards.
Virasana seated on end of bolster – For the sake of comparison, to be very clear – can you feel how now (compared to Janu) the breathing is very much at the front of the body? (This was crystal clear, it was a completely different mode of breathing and felt comparatively superficial).
AMSwastikasana (changing from the earlier fold where we only did one side) – bolster on the crossed legs in such a way as to support the abdomen (I was able to hold the slanting plank on it’s edge to support the head end of the bolster and prevent it from hanging down). Your lower most rib you will dedicate to the next rib – now which rib is not responding? If there is a hump in the dorsal you are locked you cannot move there. Any hardness is going to invite disease – your organs need to be soft. Another way to spread is to press the outer bottom ribs down into the support, it makes you spread but it makes you hard and that I don’t want. Feel it! Hard and wide or the other way, soft and wide – we want the second one.
Sirsasana – If your all your effort is going to be put into maintaining the balance this will create hardness and this I don’t want, so in that case be near the wall. Do not go up with straight legs, that rock hard abdomen I don’t want, go softly, easily up. When we are afraid of the balance, the tendency is to bring the legs slightly forwards – do that – come about a quarter of the way down and feel that at the bottom, the ribs move from front to back and the diaphragm moves from the centre to the sides - then see can you maintain this action and come up to classical sirsasana. Guruji told us that when we teach beginners we should not talk about the breath or they will go wrong, but there comes a certain point as more experienced practitioners, where we have to attend to the breath, otherwise the pose cannot be sustained correctly. This release of the diaphragm creates an ease of breathing, a softness there. Turn the legs outward, turn the feet out – can you feel how that creates a hardness there? Now rotate the inner thighs backwards and extending the legs upward, join the legs together and feel the softness in the abdomen. Now go for pindasana those that can easily do (or virasana similarly folding the legs down if not). Feel the big depth this creates in the abdominal cavity – I am not asking you to suck in the abdomen, that is another wrong action – but feel how naturally there is that depth there.
Ardha Halasana (Stool, platform, chairs etc) thighs rather than feet supported – thighs rested brings recovery, feet at the wall takes energy – Take your hand to the occipital ridge and lengthen it away. Throat has to rest on the back of the neck. Chest should be open or closed? Try pushing your spine your chest forwards – the breathing is hard. Let the sternum release to the back body and counteract that by moving the buttock and sacrum forward. Exhalation is easier, more pleasant? Feel how this contributes to the preparation for pranayama, diaphragm releases, abdomen softens. Eyeballs descend deeper down into the sockets, teeth, jaw has to become soft. How when the soil is hard, the farmer has to first plough the soil so that growth is possible, in the same manner, ardha halasana makes the abdominal muscles soft. This softness is an important aspect for pranayama. You can also try interlocking the fingers on the stomach, just below the ribcage using a slight pressure to move the abdominal cavity and find out what that brings.
1) Chair Sarvangasana
2) Brick setubandha
Now here we are not moving the front of the body to the back of the body, it is opposite action. Study the difference. It was in the Women’s class that Guruji said, “You are caught in watching the actions only, you do not remember to watch the response”. An Iyengar teacher should teach you to be perceptive, sensitive – not to go on and on feeding instructions only. If the brain is only used for action, it does not become sensitive.
Chair Sarvang – Hold back of the chair and move your shoulders back to the bolster to lengthen the bottom diaphragm back. Inhalation becomes longer, exhalation becomes longer and study the difference.
Both groups – The area where the shoulder blades start, LIFT UP! lengthen the bottom rib – if the legs drop out you cannot extend the abdominal cavity. Put all the bits in order – outer legs have to lengthen away, thighs roll in. Spine has to lift up, without lifting up the back of the neck.
1) Supta Baddha Konasana – Bolster vertical for spine, blanket for head of required, 2 belts an individual one for the top of each leg, drawing the calf closer to the thigh, buckle drawing towards you, facing the ceiling in a position where you can reach it to adjust.
2) Supta Virasana – Bolster vertical for spine, blanket for head if required.
2 different poses, 2 different chests and observe the different shape of the abdominal cavity. In baddha konasana, naturally the abdominal cavity is softer and wider. In supta virasana the thighs are more grounded and that resistance makes it easier to extend the abdomen. Teachers you must know the different qualities of these poses so that there is not just any pose for relaxation and recovery.
Supta Matsyasana with bolster spine wise. ‘Padmasana is becoming a lost art’. Supta swastikana alternative in case padmasana not possible. The padmasana variations are a must in the case of AIDS. Now here again the abdominal shape is different. I said virasana creates a resistance to lengthen the abdomen, but sometimes the thighs puff up, this is why weights are required. In matsyasana can you feel how the folding of the legs is itself providing the weight? This develops a different physiology of the body – a fuller breath. In the beginning Guruji said we should only go for this naturally fuller, little deeper breathing and not formal pranayama. But now later on, when the three of them have poured so much knowledge onto us, further understanding has developed. We have to build from that past knowledge.
Prone Savasana – Take the head position that suits – turn the head to the side or rest the forehead on the blanket, feet apart and toes rolling towards each other, heels apart like resting AMVirasana. Buttock moving away from the waist. Realise how the back in prone savasana is linked to janu sirsasana breathing. Prone savasana and spine savasana are different dynamics of breathing, now by lying on the belly a complete turn around, the breath is in the back. For many practitioners Pranayama Is not interesting until the asanas are no longer possible. You have to develop a taste for the breathing – you start becoming better readers of yourself and others and we are equipped with a tremendous ability to read the situation. As students of yoga we learn to read the situation rather than just react.