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Monday, 15 March 2010

Vinyasa Krama Inverted Sequence

This week I'm moving on to the Inverted sequence, the plan being to spend a week on each of the VK sequences to improve familiarity before alternating the sequences daily. I was a little confused about how to approach them. In a newsletter, Ramaswami discusses Sarvangasana and Sirsasana together and in his book, Yoga beneath the surface, he talks about them as being preparatory as well as counter poses to eachother. In Yoga for the three stages of life he puts the two sequences together in the same section. However, in The Complete book of Vinyasa Yoga the Shoulder stand subroutine appears at the end of the Supine sequence, while the headstands dominate the Inverted sequence, which also includes forearm stands and some other arm balance poses.

Looking at the three books together plus the newsletter and bringing it all together the recommendation seems to be the following.

A mudra pose that engages the bandhas. (I'm choosing Maha Mudra as it opens the hips and there are some lotus poses to come. Before this though I tend to start my practice with some Tadasana and a couple of Sury's)

The Sarvangasana preparatory poses...
Apanasana (pelvic lift)
U- formation (arms and legs raised while supine)
Dwipadpitam (Desk pose)

Savangasana Subroutine (As prep for headstand, I do around fifteen minutes of Shoulder stand variations, I stop before the lotus variations)

Sirsasana Subroutine ( Took me around thirty minutes this morning, around three long slow steady breaths engaging moola and uddiyana bandha during exhale retention while in each of the variations)

Childs pose
Sarvangasana (switching back to Shoulder stands here as counter poses for headstand and supposedly to retain the benefits longer. I do the unsupported Shoulder stand variations from the end of the Subroutine)

Padmasana (It's recommended to finish with a seated pose for ten minutes or so).

The Sirsasana and Sarvangasana Subroutines follow a similar pattern in their variations. While up in the the pose you tend to start by bringing the legs to the chest individually and then together as well as in half lotus. This is followed by bringing the legs to the floor individually then together, some lotus variations, halasana variations etc in the Sarvangasana subroutine as well as some unsupported shoulder stand variations. You finish off with some inverted backbend postures.

Latter in the week I'll try to add some pictures and possible a couple of videos to give more of an idea of the Subroutines.

UPDATE
...or I can just embed this 1938 video of Krishnamacharya himself doing some of the inversion variations. This is of course a Demo, In Ramaswami's book you tend to repeat the variations three to six times.

My whole practice this morning took a little under 90 minutes, which included about half hour each in Sisasana and Sarvangasana.

This is from Ramaswami's August 09 newsletter, where he discusses these inversions.

HEAD AND SHOULDERS ABOVE ……
The two important inversion poses, Sirasasana and its better half
Sarvangasana, called the King and Queen of yogasanas are a unique
contribution of Yoga towards physical culture and physical therapy.
Several contemporary yogis have disputed the place of these poses and
have claimed that they perhaps are later day inventions. But in
Hatayoga they are considered as viparita karani mudras.
Hatayogapradipika refers to inversions as follows
“ There is a wonderful karana or procedure which helps to starve the
sun,( here the gastric fire). One may learn it only from a Guru, and
not from the books. If the position of the sun(stomach) is above and
the moon(the head) below (i.e., upside down) it is called
viparitakarani(inversion). Learn it from a Guru “
The pelvic area—kandasthana-, according to some yogis is a breeding
ground for many ailments. It is also the area from where 72.000 nadis
are said to emanate and also Kundalini. This area should be kept
clean. The dross should be burnt and blown away, figuratively
speaking. How does the Yogi do it?
We have an air principle in that area which is Apana Vayu. We have
also the fire principle in us in the abdominal area in the form of
gastric fire or Jataraagni. This flame is flowing upwards and in the
normal upright position the gastric fire is above the pelvic area,
flowing upward, sometimes when overactive, produces a burning
sensation in the esophagus producing the typical ‘heart burn”. The
Yogi by resorting to the inversions, as Headstand and Sarvangasana, is
able to place the pelvic area above the gastric area. Now the gastric
fire or jataragni,-- figuratively speaking—flows towards the pelvic
area and heats and purifies the Nadias and the Kandasthan, arouses the
Kundalini with the heat. The fire is further supposed to be fanned and
intensified by directing the air tatwa or apana by Mula bandh; it
draws the apana closer to the fire principle and thereby the apana air
also becomes hotter and in turn melts away the dross of the
kandasthana and arouses the sleeping kundalini. So headstand and
shoulderstand, the mulabandha and the intense gastric fire help to
cleanse the nadis and the rogasthana or the disease prone area is
cleaned and spruced up.
There is another interesting concept associated with the inversions of
which I may have referred to in one of the earlier letters/articles.
It is said that our head contains a liquid called amrita which may be
translated as nectar. This nectar gives us life and drips drop by drop
through the uvula into the stomach where it is consumed by the gastric
fire to provide the life energy to live. This reservoir of nectar is
slowly used up and with its total depletion comes the end of one’s
life. The Yogi tries to ration the flow of the nectar, by remaining in
inverted position for a length of time every day—say between half an
hour to an hour or so. During the period of time the yogi is in head
stand and shoulder stand, the amrita remains stored in the head
without dripping down.
The Hatayogapradika has this to say
The Hatayogapradipika explains the inversion mudra as follows. “The
cool nectar that flows from the moon (here the head) is swallowed by
the hot sun (the gastric fire). Hence one’s body becomes aged. There
is a wonderful karana or procedure which helps to starve the sun,
(here the gastric fire). One may learn it only from a Guru, and not
from the books. If the position of the sun is above and the moon below
(i.e., upside down) it is called viparitakarani(inversion). Learn it
from a Guru. Do abhyaa of this inverted pose and increase the duration
every day. One who practices this for a yaama (3 hrs) daily will
conquer death”. When I was young I came across a Yogi who was said to
be practising sirsasana for three hours every day. His face had a
unique bluish tinge. He also practised Mouna or silence.
So by this daily practice, the Yogi is able to increase, so to say,
his/her lifespan by 5%, or say between 3 to 5 years. Normally after
Headstand the yogi is supposed to spend equal time in shoulder stand
as well. In shoulder stand, amrita while still confined to the skull/
brain portion, now is allowed to flow to the entire head portion above
the neck and nourish all the sensitive sense organs, the two eyes, the
two ears, the mouth and the nose (shanmukha). This is also considered
necessary to maintain the acuity of the sense organs
as they are way up in the body and may not get the full nourishment .
Sarvangasana therefore is considered good for the sense organs whereas
the headstand is good for the brain.
The normal upright position and the chin up position in which we keep
our head, both result in a wasteful free flow of the limited amrita in
the head down the uvula to the gastric fire, like a free flowing tap.
The Yogis found it necessary to constantly control the flow of this
nectar and even temporarily stop it. They developed a simple technique
called Jalandhara bandha to temporarily stop and control the flow. The
term Jalandhara-bandha itself indicates the effect it is said to
produce. Jala means water and here it refers to the amrita or nectar
which is said to be in the liquid form. Dhara is to hold, here holding
the amrita in the head itself and bandha is the lock, the procedure
which helps to achieve the holding operation. So Jalandharabandha
means the lock that enables holding the nectar in the head. Of course
while we do asanas and pranayama we adjust the bandha in such a way
that we allow only a small and necessary amount of amrita to flow and
also maintain a good ujjayi control over the breath. That is why the
default position of the head in asana practice whether it is tadasana
or the seated Padmasana or Vajrasana is the head down position. One
could see the pictures of my Guru doing asanas and one could see his
head down position in most of them—even in asanas like urdhvamukha
svanasana or the well known upward facing dog pose. In the entire
vinyasakrama one would find the relaxed default head down position is
resorted to control the flow of amrita and the ujjayi breath.
Some contemporary yogis may read these metaphorical narrations with a
wry smile. However these inversions should be considered as unique
contributions of Yoga, for health. Within the first few minutes of
Sirsasana practice, the leg and thigh muscles, the gluteal muscles,
relax. The chest, back, shoulders and neck muscles also relax as all
these are not required to maintain the postural tone as in the upright
position. It has been found that due to the relaxation of the leg
muscles, the blood pressure in the legs drop to about 30mm.There is no
great rush of blood to the head among the adept yogis due to auto
regulation; yet the gravity helps to open up many capillaries in the
brain, head and face which may otherwise remain partially closed.
People with high blood pressure and retinal problems will have to be
careful. However persons with mild hypertension and under control with
diet, life style change and even medication could benefit from this
posture if they had learnt it from early life. It appears to increase
pressure on the shoulders which would result in the brain trying to
reduce the blood pressure. Therefore if one would practice Sirshasana
regularly for a sufficient duration, one’s pulse rate tends to reduce,
thereby reducing the strain on the heart. Gradually there is a
reduction in the blood pressure.
What is equally important is that Sirsasana helps improve circulation
of the cerebro spinal fluid, which is helpful to the brain and also
for the spinal nerve bundles—the chakras. Because of the increased
pressure in the brain due to this fluid, the pituitary secretions
increase helping the better functioning of the sympathetic nervous
system which will help in many ways including the dilatation of the
bronchial tubes giving great relief to asthmatics. There is draining
of the bronchial tubes, giving some welcome relief for those with
chronic chest congestion. Many feel increased memory power and
general better brain capacity. There are cases of even some correction
of the eyesight. The vinyasas like the twists, Akunchanasana, the
backbends like Viparitadandasana in Sirsasana and Uttanamayurasana in
Sarvangasana help the spine considerably, by not only maintaining the
flexibility of this structure but also nourish the nadis and chakras
or nerve fibers and nerve bundles in the spinal chord.
In the inversions, as mentioned in earlier articles, the internal
organs get positional correction. Pregnant yoginis may find the
inversions help relieve pelvic congestion, oedema of the legs,
conditions that are prevalent during pregnancy. Practising the
inverted poses with the variety of vinyasas gives a complete massage
to all the muscles, organs and considerably increases the blood
circulation. Perhaps equally important is the effect of the twin poses
on the major joints-- the ankles, the knees, the hips and the spine.
The intra-articular space within the joints improves and hence the
joint movements when one does the various vinyasas also will improve.
Dorsal and plantar flexions performed in the ankle joints while in
these asanas help the ankles significantly. Asanas like Akunchanasana
in inversions give good relief to the knees, while inversions help
to open the hips by dragging the big pelvic girdle down a bit and
giving more space for the femur to move and rotate nicely within the
hip socket(pl refer to Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga for headstand and
shoulder stand vinyasas). Perhaps the most benefit accrues to the
entire spine. The inter-vertebral space is enhanced and person who
practises these inversions and the vinyasas like akunchanasana and
backbends will find the spine stretching nicely and becoming more
flexible. The narrowing of the inter-vertebral space can be tackled
positively and the low back pain reduces significantly. I would say
that the inversions are the best yoga postures to alleviate low back
pain. Overall these inversions and the vinyasas in them help to keep
the spine supple and strong. It is said one is as old as the condition
of the spine. Further, because of the relaxation of the lower
extremities Sarvangasana is a good pose to help overcome insomnia.
These twin poses are very good for health.
Contemporary Yogis find the other important inversion, viz., the
Handstand or Vipritvrukshasna very popular. This is a great pose, with
a number of variations possible. However since the head is not fixed
in this group of poses, some of the finer aspects of the other two
head- fixed inversions (sarvangasana and sirshasana) may be missing.
One finds it more difficult to maintain balance and also stay for a
sufficiently long time in viparitavrikshasana or inverted tree pose
(Hand Stand) and other similar poses like scorpion pose etc. These two
regal poses stand ‘head and shoulders’ above the rest in conferring
health benefits to the yogabhyasis.

10 comments:

  1. Thanks for your recommendations on vinyasa krama. I have been doing the meditative sequence nightly for the past week and loving it.

    After reading your pose I thought I'd give the inverted sequence a try on tomorrow's moon day. However, after reading through the sequence, I noticed a potential hitch. How is one supposed to turn the pages of the book whilst in a headstand ? Or is one suppose to remember the sequence ? I think I would find it annoying to have to keep coming down to turn the pages.

    BTW this is assuming I can read whilst upside down.

    What is your solution ?

    Cheers, Floss

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Floss, I had the very same problem last summer and found it frustrating. It's actually not so bad when you look at it, kind of makes sense. The headstands are the same as the shoulder stand variations.

    Up you go and then your lowering one leg three times on the exhale and then the other and then both together then a half lotus lowered, then toes to floor.

    Next it's that nice eagle pose with the legs wound around each other which leads you into some twists legs together and then legs apart.

    bring the soles of the feet together and then your into the lotus variations, twisting to the left and right and then lowering the lotus to your chin

    It finishes off with backbends so unwrap your lotus and then take the legs back to the floor.

    so...
    Legs down to chest
    legs to floor
    Half lotus
    Eagle
    twists
    lotus
    backbends

    You might forget a couple but it's kind of intuitive. The main thing anyway is a nice long headstand with lots of breath focus, so as long as your focussed on that then missing one or two variations isn't going to be a disaster.

    the Shoulder stands as i said follow a similar pattern except you have halasana poses and those unsupported shoulder stand's at the end.

    Most important thing to remember of course is it's not Ashtanga, it's OK if you do it out of order or miss something out, it's just asana : )

    ReplyDelete
  3. Just posted a video of Krishnamacharya doing a demo version.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Wow, wow wow. This KrishnaM video was the little lift I needed today (is that an inversion joke? maybe). Thanks so much, so inspiring.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi Liz2, isn't it great, did you see that there are another five parts to this movie. if you click on it then it should take you to Youtube and you'll see the other five parts. Lots of a young iyengar on it too.

    ReplyDelete
  6. The Kishnamacharya clip is truly inspiring !

    Just had a go at the inverted sequence - harder than it looks ! Only lasted half the sirsasana sequence so didn't have to worry about forgetting bits ! However I found it to be a nice complement to my ashtanga practice, which at the moment I am focusing on strength and accessing my bandhas.

    Wish there are more hours in the day so I can add this sequence to my daily practice too !

    Having trouble with my google account login, doesn't seem to recognise my password after a day or so.

    Cheers, Floss

    ReplyDelete
  7. Takes a while to get used to but I like it, been feeling incredibly mellow all day, wondering if that's an effect of long headstands. People talk of intense back bending giving you restless nights and I've experienced that, wonder if any one else has found headstands to be particularly mellowing.

    yes so much practice, so little time. Of course if your practicing at home you can do a longer sirsasana one day, sarvangasana another and chuck in some of the variations just for fun. Many of the sarvangasana ones are in Ashtanga anyway.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thanks for posting the video Grimmly! Very inspiring indeed - talk about core strength. Wow.

    Cheers!!
    LaGitane

    ReplyDelete
  9. Actually, I've been doing long headstands consistently for almost 6 months, and after the 4 month mark (about 30 minutes a day on average), I started feeling unusually anxious during the day (whereas before 4 months I would feel a bit clearer headed and that would be it). The anxiousness is unusual because I usually have a pretty laid back disposition.

    I started trying to do equal headstand/shoulderstand time to see if it would get rid of the hyped feeling and it seemed to work for a while. I've also since curtailed the total headstand time to daily 10/10 or 15/15 minutes, equal proportions head and shoulder stand.

    Another odd side effect is that I do notice now that after headstands, there is an unusual alertness of mental chatter (a kind of persistent feeling of observing ego or watching your own thoughts) Unfortunately, it's not something you can turn off at will and it often takes a while to dissipate. That can often make it awkward and distracting when in the middle of dealing with practical matters.

    I have to say that I'm getting a bit concerned, but I haven't gotten more red flag symptoms, like big headaches, etc. that might indicate physiological dangers, like aneurysms, strokes, etc.

    Just wondering if any other people here have experienced something similar? I don't want to scare anybody off the practice of long headstands, quite the contrary. I've noticed excellent benefits such as improved circulation, fewer headaches actually, even some small fuzzy hair regrowth, so I'm looking to continue at it if at all possible.

    ReplyDelete
  10. thank you for your comment Cerananda, really interesting. hoping to explore longer headstands whil I'm away on Ramaswami's TT course next week. When I do the inverted sequence i guess my mind is still wrapped up with which posture comes next. Since this post i've been doing ten to twenty minute headstands most days but again I'm focussing strongly on the breath, wonder if that makes a difference re the mental chatter. Also i do them at the end of my practice so my mind has tended to be quieter.

    ReplyDelete

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A Reminder

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
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