Day 7 IYNAUS Zoom Intensive - Pranayama and Supported Poses
I woke up with yesterday's supported back bending class, radiating around my body - the combination of long stays with a relaxed diaphragm is a powerful one and although I love backbends and feel very comfortable in them, I can't remember the last time I consciously chose to stay and soften my diaphragm - it's a been a bit more haphazard than that, where if this action has happened spontaneously, then I might find myself staying. Nor do I think I've been to a class where I have done these poses for a long duration, repeatedly one after the other. It was a good lesson for me and bought into clear focus the further potential of these already much-loved poses - I felt a perfect balance of stimulation and calm.
Today we began the class with pranayama and I was excited (and honoured) to be one of the panelists. How amazing and strange to be taught by Abhijata right in my own bedroom at home! Panelist or not, the whole week has felt like such an intimate, up-close relationship with Abhi as she has guided us through a supportive and nurturing practice for times of difficulty. By the power of modern technology Abhi has been able to teach more people than ever before in a class (I'm not sure of the exact number, but I know it was more than a 1000!) and yet reach each of us individually in what felt like a very personal exchange. As a teacher and human being she has my gratitude, affection and respect. I am heartened to see that she will be offering more of this online teaching in the near future. I will update these blog posts with the photos from the sessions, kindly provided by Susanne Bulington, but for now I head to bed as unlike in Pune, when I'm carefree blogging with no demands on my time, tomorrow I have to be up early to teach X
Day 7 IYNAUS Intensive – Supported poses and Pranayama
Swastikasana Invocation – Learn to take ‘A step back’ - as we endeavour to see and to listen, we instinctively tense up and strain forwards – that’s how the nerves are programmed. Even though the eyes are open, learn to take the eyeballs voluntarily backwards. The entire sitting position has to be adjusted. Step back!! Go back!! Keep your chest soft. Gently bring the eyelids down to seal the eyes and join your palms. Swallow your saliva, let your throat be wet. Use your eyes to observe your sitting position from within.
Today we’ll begin with Pranayama – the order of learning is asana first and then pranayama – but in our own sadhana the practice of pranayama should come first. Throughout the week we have taken the supported poses first and ended with pranayama. Despite the fact we have mainly worked with supported poses, there is still some fatigue at the end of a class, so today we will do pranayama at the start where the mind and body are still ‘fresh’
Supta Swastikasana – vertical bolster or folded blankets and head supported. See that you are centrally placed. Spread the buttocks from the centre to the sides and move the buttocks away from the waist. See that when you adjust your chest and shoulder blades the bottom ribs have not become hard. Let the face recede towards the back of the head. Make the sides of the chest responsive to your breath and observe the inhalation spreading evenly throughout the chest area. Let the mind first feel the breath before it enters the lungs. See that the eyeballs do not rise up when you inhale – this means that the brain is sucking the air. Eyeballs down deep into the sockets. Slow steady inhalation, smooth exhalation and maintain a steady rhythm. Begin to listen to the sound of your inhalation and observing that sound, the inhalation is complete when the inhalation becomes inaudible. Exhalation slower and smoother, but not deeper.
Ujayii Pranayama – Aereates the lungs and energises the whole system. Try reverse sitting position for a different experience, so that the screen, my voice is coming from behind. Sit in your choice of swastikasana, virasana or chair if needed. From the lower waist muscles, ascend up and sit tall. Bring the head down to jalandhara bandha and see that the eyes also release downwards. Do not make the back rigid, spinal muscles pliable but spinal column firm. Upper back skin descending downwards and tailbone ascended upwards. Anterior spine lifted higher than back spine. Inhale, slight pause to relift the contents of the chest and exhale, followed by a supplementary exhalation to complete that exhalation breath – note that this is not a viloma exhalation. Deep inhalation without strain – brain quiet, diaphragm, ribs quiet and maintaining the diaphragm grip, no sudden collapse as you exhale. Normal breaths between cycles. 4 or 5 cycles.
Repeat supta swastikasana 2nd cross of legs, option for horizontal bolster. Gently press the skin of the abdominal organs and let the inhalation start from the pelvic girdle. As you inhale the top of the naval should come into line with the bottom of the naval. Inhale smoothly, slowly, rhythmically spreading the ribs sideways with the breath. Locate the top corner between the breastbone and collar bones and let the breath move in that area. See that the diaphragm does not suddenly collapse, maintain the grip and a gradual release of the breath to maintain a steady rhythm. Normal breaths between cycles, about 6 cycles of ujayii.
Savasana flat on the floor - do not take too much height for the head. No modification of the breath now – involuntary breaths. Facial skin, facial muscles soft, let the eyes move inwards and ears receptive. Observe the changes in your normal breathing. Savasana is considered an intermediary step, a threshold between sleep and samadhi. It may appear simple, but it is one of the most difficult asanas to do properly – when it is understood, it refreshes the cells of your body. It is more rejuvenating and restorative than sleep alone. Let the mind evenly diffuse in the body, let there be silence in body and mind. Rest in the lap of Mother Earth. Taste the silence.
Normally there would be some gap between pranayama and asana, but since we don’t have the opportunity in this format, just take a few moments to refresh – go and look out of the window for a few moments and maybe get some fresh air.
AMVirasana bolster support – don’t go for muscular stretching or extension yet. Embrace the bolster. Gentle widening sensation width of front and back body. Here she talked about pranayama and the distinction between alertness (too strong) and awareness (more diffused). ‘Pranayama is a sadhana of sensitivity’ When we wake from a night’s sleep there is a state of inertia and laziness- after savasana that dullness is not there – physical body is refreshed, even though the mental state is quiet – learn to differentiate between dullness and quietness, they are not the same. If you tend to sleep in Pranayama don’t fight it – maybe next time prepare with setubandha to keep you more alert.
AMSvanasana approx. 3-4 mins – Rope / Wall support for hands / Head support. How do the props sustain you in the pose? Even pressure on the head – neither too much nor too little – Guruji has said that prop should be and extension of the body so maintain contact with the bolster but rest of the back ascending upwards. Maintain the pose with stability not strain.
Uttanasana head supported back of hands resting on the floor, fingers soft, toes soft. Observe how the back flows down towards the ground with the exhalation and see that it doesn’t retract on the inhalation. Recollect yesterday’s story of uttanasana – entire facial region has to fall into uttanasana, back of ears rolling downwards, don’t resist from your eyebrows, forehead, cheeks – let them all just fall to the ground.
Chair Bharadvajasana – Don’t inflate the upper arms, your holding of the chair should be gentle and should allow you to let the skin of the arms flow downwards, even the elbows have to release further downwards. No aggression in the arms or fingers that are holding – if brain is aggressive, it can’t have the sensitivity to receive inputs. The prop is meant to help perceive better not just DO better.
Bharadvajasana 1 with the wall close on right side so spine is vertically aligned, not leaning (legs to left). Use the wall to judge whether both sides of the chest are level and squarely facing the wall. Do not allow opposite root of thigh to come up, stay grounded there. Wall as a mirror.
Bharadvajasana 1 with wall behind. Wall as a physical support (not sensory support as previous version). Sternum upwards and turn.
Dandasana back to the wall. Draw buttock bones back to the wall so that lower back is fully supported. No strain. Raise the lower waist upwards.
Dandasana soles of feet on wall. Back of the thighs, back of the knees, calf muscles have to touch the ground. Lift the bottom ribs up away from the stomach.
Supported Chair Navasana – calf muscles on the chair, keep the palms behind. Raise the lower back upwards. Trunk reclining back, not dandasana position.
Supported belt Navasana (1 long belt or 2 normal belts tied together) Don’t make belt too tight - angle should be same as LOY pic not too upright. Lower back ASCEND upwards so that abdominal muscles not so hard.
Prasarita Paddotonasna back to the wall - The challenge is to walk closer and closer to the wall. You will get the sensitivity of the spinal muscles. Uttanasana back to the wall Closer and closer. Roll the buttocks over towards the wall. Dorsal drawing down the wall. Let the prop guide you to work harder. Prop is our Guru now - Where required it can be strict with you! Where required it will demand discipline from you! Where required it can bring about a state of peace and quiet you never knew existed! Step back to come out of the pose.
Stand up and feel the parallelity between the back and the front of the body. Feel it and understand it.
Janu Sirsasana 1st attempt - bolster along inside of thigh, so that it acts as a second leg to support the whole torso as you go forwards. 2nd bolster or blanket to support the head if required. Let the bolster inform your alignment so that both sides rest evenly. The bent leg side has to learn to rest on the bolster. Move forwards from the lower waist, exhale spread the diaphragm and take both sides down. This variation useful for people with scoliosis as you feel the touch to judge your alignment.
2nd attempt – bolster in across shin, but placed in position to support the bottom rib / bottom breast area. This is the area that has the tendency to hunch in forward bends. Move forwards and TOUCH that area downwards (not a passive pose now). Exhale and go!
3rd attempt - bolster on outside of thigh, so that body has to cross diagonally over the straight leg to get the head down. Use forceful exhalations to move forwards and to release the hardness on the bent leg side of the back. Bring the softness in the back muscles. Can you make the stubborn area malleable AFFABLE to Janu Sirsasana.
4th attempt – bolster across leg in the more usual position and find out what improvement is there in your Janu Sirsasana. The pliability the preparations has created, allow you to just BE in Janu Sirsasana. A softer Janu Sirsasana where you can stay.
Sirsasana knuckles and heels at the wall and eka pada sirsasana. Move the buttocks into the body and RUB the heels up the wall from the action of the hips. The ankles have to SUCK your hips upwards. Bring the right leg down half way, but right lower back and left lower back EQUAL distance from the wall, keep both sides close to the wall. Use the wall as a reference point. Now the wall has to teach you how to leave the wall – make the touch of your heels lighter – a feather light touch. From the hips, extend upwards so that the heels are still lighter, control this movement from the buttocks and see that the distance between bottom ribs and the wall does not increase – move your bottom side ribs from the front to the back, towards the wall.
Chair Sarvangasana (Nirlambe sarvangasana or bent leg sarvangasana with the feet on the wall). What is touch of the chair telling you? How is the right side and left side of the waist contacting the chair? Does one upper arm move towards the leg of the chair and the other away? Is one arm puffing up, one arm shrinking? The chair is helping you to refine your sensitivity.
While we were in sarvangasana she told us a memory she had written down to share. She was working on kapotasana in the practice hall, a pose she had come to love and felt accomplished in. Guruji approached and made her stop – he pinned her knees down with his feet and put a rope around her waist, pulling the rope towards him as she went down into the pose. Suddenly her much-loved pose became very difficult – it lost its smoothness. He asked her to increase the lift and opening and instructed her to maintain this once he removed the rope. She felt like she was flying! Breathing was smooth and there was a tremendous sense of lightness and ease. It was a taste of prayatna shaithilya or effortless effort. To get an understanding of this, sensitivity has to be refined and Guruji told her
“Yoga is nothing but the science of refinement of the sensitivity”.
X Legs bend forwards to seat of chair, long stay each side. Don’t be too close, spine needs room to extend.
If we can refine our sensitivity through our practice of yoga it takes us towards freedom. Clarity of perception leads to an awareness in every aspect of our lives. With Guruji’s torchlight to guide us, I hope we can enliven Guruji’s statement that
‘Yoga is a way of life – it leads to a state where we live in freedom’.