Friday, 28 November 2008

Why this obsession with Jump Back. Letter to Japan

I've had a lot of visitors to this blog from Japan the last couple of days thanks to a link from miwamiwa's blog Very happy about this as I lived in Japan for six years, in Osaka and Kyoto. I came back to the UK five years ago but still consider Japan a second home and still hope to return to live there again in the future. Nice to know there's a thriving Ashtanga scene.

On miwamiwa's blog I believe she was discussing the different perspective on Ashtanga from Japan in particular in this case and in the West. I don't think she was being critical, in a negative sense, when she commented on the apparent focus on the physical aspect in the west and on the meditative in Japan. Interesting, as this debate tends to come up a lot, more in the sense of the physical and/or spiritual focus in the west and in India, in particular, as representative of the East. I don't think the spiritual and meditative are necessarily interchangeable here.

Miwa uses blogs as indicators and my blog among others as an example of the focus on the physical and/or on asana and in my case a seeming obsession with the Jump Back in particular. Though she says she enjoys my blog and isn't critical of this I wanted to respond both for myself and for anyone who finds the Jump Back important aspect of practice to them.

I started this blog to focus on one aspect of ashtanga, the Jump back. I've had to resist the urge to comment on other aspects of practice or to get involved in other discussions surrounding Ashtanga (especially hard at times as I come from a philosophical background). I've started and deleted several blogs that went off topic. And perhaps it has become a bit of an obsession in the process of writing about my progress several times a week.

However, I focused on the Jump Back because I felt it was important despite what many teachers say. I still believe it's one of the most important aspects of practice if not the defining aspect of Ashtanga. The Jump Back and Jump Through link the Asana, it's what makes Ashtanga a flowing practice. When the practice flows we're able to focus more on the breath and on the meditative aspect Miwa mentions, rather than focusing on the breath in just the one asana as in other styles of yoga. The whole Ashtanga practice becomes one long meditation. I used to practice Vippasana meditation as well as Ashtanga, now my practice has become an extended Vipasanna meditation. An hour to an hour and a half rather than the 20-40 minutes I used to practice Vipasanna or indeed Zen in the past. As random thoughts enter my mind in practice I try to treat them as I would in Vipassana. This all becomes more effective with a flowing transition between asana.

If you look back to my June and July videos this is when I latch on to a style of Jump Back that begins to flow more and allowed me to focus more on the practice as a whole. The developments since then have been to improve that flow and to achieve a lighter more, graceful practice. It's all abut the breath, the rhythm and flow. If we focus on the asana and we all do at times. isn't it because the asana we struggle with interrupt the flow. Yes there's the sense of triumph and achievement when we begin to get them but we're Ashtangi's, it's the practice as a whole we focus on and every morning (or afternoon) and never really the individual asana, though we might give one or another more attention for awhile. And the practice IS a meditation, what else could it be.
It still amazes me what we do. Getting up in the dark, cold winter mornings six days a week and going through our practice. Whether we practice at home or at a Shala, despite the occasional wandering drishti or monkey mind, for an hour and a half we absorb ourselves in the practice, in the breath. This is meditative and can't help but affect/effect us on a spiritual and indeed moral level. It's a discipline we impose on ourselves so of course it has those aspects. There is no essential difference between Ashtanga PRACTICE in the East and West, how could there be. The different perspectives we may have only surround the practice and dissolve when we step on the mat.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Jump Back Achieved: At last, the Jump Back I always wanted

Something happened during Tuesday's practice, the Jump Back I've been after finally materialized. Half way through the practice everything came together and I just seemed to get the extra lift and there it was. After my practice I tried to catch it on Video. Of the three I took this is the best one with the best Jump Through but I'm a little off shot at the beginning One of the others I took is on youtube).


What I like about it is that I tend to go straight up and get enough height to bring my legs back through without brushing the mat. My hips tend to go up higher and more smoothly, the whole thing has a nice pace about it. The Jump Through too is more controlled, again, I didn't brush the mat and my legs straightened nicely before coming down.

I think it can be improved of course, but this is basically what I've been after and I think the grace and consistency will come.

What's interesting is that it comes after a disrupted month of practice. A post or two before I mention that I've lost some arm and core strength (my jump through was completely shot), so the success here isn't down to just strength. Nor is it due to any mystical Bandha control, although I do draw my belly in and up, there's nothing mystical about it. I think it's just a matter of bringing several techniques together.

I'll try and focus on these in the next couple of posts

*By the way I'm thinking about a new camcorder for these videos,any suggestions? Something cheap, HD perhaps but nothing too fancy At the moment I'm just using my phone. None of the YouTube or cnet camcorder reviews give an idea of which would be best for recording this kind of thing indoors

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Changing from morning to afternoon practice

I used to get up and practice around 6:30 am 6 days a week. Always felt a bit of pressure on work days. If I didn't start on time I would feel the need to rush through Standing or finishing. More often than not I'd end up with only a 5 min Savasana (can almost hear (0v0)'s tut of disapproval). This week I've just given up on it. My practice space has been compromised a little, just not the same practicing with a computer keyboard tapping away in the background. Thought about ways to divide the room in two but nothing seemed to work. Find it's important to me, that sense of my own space to practice, no distractions, mind can wander enough as it is.

So I've moved my practice to after work. I get in at 6pm and have the house to myself until at least 8pm. My body is loose from the day and having just cycled home I'm all warmed up. Finding it a revelation. As my body is so much looser I'm able to bind more deeply and get further into a pose. My calves are finally touching the floor in Pashimottanasana I'm able to grab my wrist in marichyasana D rather than just link my fingers. Legs are starting to go more over my shoulder than just behind my neck in Eka pada sirasana and my backbends are so much higher and I'm able to walk in further. Best of all I can have a good fifteen min Savasana. I have time too to really take my time in Standing and Finishing and am starting to love them again. Feel too that I have that extra time to really work on things too (dropbacks?) and/or start wandering into 2nd series.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Solved Jump Back problem

So I think I've solved my Jump Back problem mentioned in earlier posts where I'd started touching my toe down half way through. Couple of things came together during this mornings practice. Mixture of the stretchy arms, sitting up straighter and hands a bit closer to my hips. I should do a video to go with this but have just stuffed a toasted fish finger salad sandwich with ketchup and can hardly move. Will add it later... have been feeling the pressure to have a November progress video and the months getting away from me.

Basically I'm trying to sit up higher and straighter on my sit bones

Do the stretchy arm thing to make my arms really long (see earlier post)

Drop my shoulder blades down my back

Press my hands just in front of my buttocks (Tended to have them a little further forward before and think this is why I was going over/ forward too soon)

Press down and lift up, a bit straighter up than before

Try to begin my pivot forward a little higher up than I had been (I'd been pivoting forward and bending my arms at the same time up till now)

Being higher up when you swing forward your hips come up more, much smoother jump back and no touching of the toes.

OK, tried to catch it on video after all, feel sick now.


Notice my Jump Through is still weak since I hurt my toe. Coming down too soon, used to be able to do it, so know that I've just slipped back into bad habits. How much of Ashtanga is about breaking bad habits or learning new habits

Monday, 17 November 2008

A week without Ashtanga, Venice and Cat fleas

First time I've gone more than a couple of days without my practice in a year and a half. Went to Venice (picture on the left is of Venice flooding Thursday Morning) last Monday for a mini break but thought I'd be able to practice in the hotel room as with Paris earlier in the year. Hadn't bargained on the smallest room double room ever. About a foot around the bed, not enough room to swing a cat....and talking of cats.

Went to the Island of Torcello on the second day and foolishly allowed a cat that needs swinging to jump up on my lap. Gave it a quick stroke while admiring the Last judgement mosaic in Torcello cathedral.

Come the evening I find I have fifty odd flea bites to my hands and arms and an allergic reaction to boot. This morning was the first morning I dared to practice and what a relief. Practiced a little gingerly at first bit afraid to put any weight on my hands or where to bind safely. Was also a little concerned about the effect of allowing my body to get too hot and whether sweat was a good thing or bad. In the end I decided to just trust the practice and hope that I'd release some toxins that needed releasing. Basically I went all New Age on my ass or arse as we say in the UK.

Curiously Jump Backs were an effort, felt weak and struggled half way through but my Jump Through felt all light and flighty as If I was effortlessly floating up. Perhaps I rely too much on Physical strength. Now I think about it I'm Sure that's a weakness in my Jump Back, I'm strong enough in my arms and shoulders to really muscle through it at the expense of Core strength and technique. Note to self......

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Jump back: how to make your arms 2 Inches longer

Think you'll like this!

Lately I've been trying to get more height in my Jump back, to avoid the bad habit I've recently got into of touching my toe down half way through (see earlier post).

Another thing I've been working on is rounding my shoulders and drawing my shoulder blades further down my back.

The third thing I've begun doing is having my palms turned facing up in my Navasana.

These came together this morning and I felt like I had Mr Fantastic stretchy arms. So try this.

In Navasana have your palms open facing slightly up, facing a little more up than Kino on the left and reach up towards your toes more (not suggesting your should always do Navasana this way but this will just give you the idea of what I'm talking about). Your shoulders should have rounded as if your hands are two ends of a bow the string goes from one hand to the other, the bend in the bow around your shoulders. Now drop your shoulder blades down your back and try and keep that as you come down to prepare to lift up for your jump back. Your arms should feel really long now so bend at the elbow and ground them firmly, really press into the ground and push up. Your pushing up like a normal press up rather than trying to lift up. Now keep going up and up and up Mister fantastic stretchy arms
Will try to add a video to show what I'm getting at.


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from Kalama sutra, translation from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi

from Kalama sutra, translation from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi This blog included. "So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering" — then you should abandon them.' Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.

"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them. Buddha - Kalama Sutta