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Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Primary and intermediate after two weeks of Vinyasa Krama

Interesting to practice Primary this morning (last Friday) after Two weeks of Vinyasa Krama. I'd kept Friday for Primary and Sunday for Intermediate but the rest of the time I'd been working through the VK sequences. Have been looking forward to primary for the last couple of days and was excited about it last night. I LOVE Primary.

I Seemed to practice Standing with more intensity and was already sweating buckets by the time I reached Seated. I was wondering if I'd still be able to make all the binds, but as it turned out I managed to get deeper, much deeper, into every asana. It seems I'm more flexible this week from all the VK work, although perhaps not as fit. My breath was getting ragged towards the end and I continued to sweat even more than usual. Weighed myself afterwards and I'd lost a kilo and a half during practice. Jumping back became a bit of an effort by the end but my Jump through was better, which is curious. My Dwi pada entry into Supta K was my best yet and I noticed more lift coming out of Navasana, is this the Bandha effect, I wonder.

I said a while ago that I didn't think the bandhas would get you off the ground (you need good technique for that) but once your off, I thought perhaps the bandhas might give you that 'little bit extra'. I kinda stand by that but might clarify it to 'quite a lot extra', am I coming around?
(this is the updated bit)
Found a similar thing with Intermediate on Sunday. I'd lost some of the fitness but gained flexibility and control. Amazing how you get used to pulling all those jump backs in between asanas. You don't have that in Vinyasa Krama jumping in only at the beginning of the sequence and and then out at the end. I think the idea is that your body is aligned and you try to keep that alignment through each of the variations. We have the same thing of course in the Pachimottanasana sequence in Primary, we don't jump back in between A, B , and C but wait until the end of that sub routine then jump back and take the counter pose Purvottanasana. I kind of tweak Vinyasa Krama by taking a Jump back in between each subroutine within a sequence but it's still a shock to the system when you come back to ashtanga proper and twenty odd JB's rather than say five.
So it's tiring, hard work, but the improved flexibility makes up for it. The Bow sequence has been helping my backbends deepen, nice kapo's and coming up from that and Laghu almost effortless. My solo Supta vajrasana is taken for granted now and I do it three times rather than just once (hands/toes too slippery by then for five). I've mentioned how the Vinyasa Krama work with it's extra prep poses have helped my Eka pada and Dwi pada Sirasana, getting deeper both sides now and could even pull Chaorasana ( I know, it's in 3rd now but i got used to doing it in 2nd from the Swenson book so have kept it) on my left side and hold it for five which was a first (left had always been my weaker side). Able to straighten my back a little now before going into Dwi and able to balance for a half decent namaste. Getting deeper in to the Titti's, legs a little straighter but the nicest surprise came in Karandavasana. Must be something to do with all the bandha work in VK because I engaged them and came down very slowly, smoothly and very controlled. Going back up wasn't pretty but up is up and I'll take that for now.
To recap, in Vinyasa Krama the breath becomes a little more central. Without the jump backs and jump through the practice seems to slow down, you tend to elongate the inhale and exhale and even hold the breath for a couple of seconds at the end of both. When holding at the end of the exhale you engage mula and then Uddiyana bandha. Now you do the math, a lot of exhaling in a 90 minute practice, four days a week (in fact it's spilt over into my standing and finishing sequences in primary and intermediate so six days, that's a lot of focus on the bandhas. Plus I find myself practicing this breathing throughout my day at work. 'The bandhas are becoming strong inside you young Skywalker'.
Should say that in Vinyasa Krama the breath is adapted quite a lot, in binds and legs to chest etc. the inhale might be shallow and shorter with longer slower exhales. I've noticed a few people saying they've bought the book after hearing me go on about it so much. Bit apprehensive as it's not cheap but I figure the breath awareness and bandha focus you might get from it is worth the price alone. I know we're supposed to be very breath and bandha conscious in Ashtnaga but I suspect it gets neglected, settling on just the ujaii and a tightening of your mula and Uddiyana when you need a little extra va va voom.
I'd planned on doing this Vinyasa experiment for a month and I'm half way through. I think at the end of the month I'll go back to focusing on Intermediate and trying to improve the flow and consistency but will probably carry a few extra poses from VK into my practice. So probably
Friday Primary,
Saturday something restful/relaxing from VK + lots of pranayama
Monday Intermediate,
Tuesday (day off) exploring 3rd ( have tasted most of the poses from 3rd in VK now and don't want to give them up completely).
Wednesday Intermediate
Thursday Intermediate
Which means today, being Tuesday is 3rd.
I tend to have breakfast early on my day off and leave it for a couple of hours before practice which should give me a little extra energy for all those arm balances. Nice thing about the arm balances in 3rd is that you approach them from headstand rather than jumping straight into them which is how I learned them in The rocket.
Still need to do a post on the Vinyasa Krama Jump back, bit different, you go back straighter. watch this space.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Straight leg jump through Part III Finally!

OK I know it never truly counts until it's done on a sticky mat but this will do for me. While in the bath I was thinking that the only thing stopping me was' The Fear" afraid I was going to break a toe or put a foot long splinter in my foot from the floorboards. Noticed too how smooth and shiny the bathroom floor was. So gave it a go with socks and here it is, my first ever straight leg Jump through, three of them in fact. I probably would have been jumping up and down except I wasn't 100% sure I'd done it 'till I looked at the video.

I'll spend a few days on this and then try and put down what it is I think I'm doing and what's making the difference. I'll say one thing though, compared to the Cross legged jump through it's almost effortless, very light and floaty, it's all technique you don't have to be that strong to do this, there's a knack to it.

Just couldn't go to bed on this without hitting the mat.

Straight leg jump through Part II Somethings happening.....

I'm afraid to name it. Was just watching this mornings Lino post and decided to grab the bars and give it another try, first time in months....and this happened. Can it be, is something happening?

Friday, 26 June 2009

Lino Miele - Straight Jump through Part I

Great video of lino teaching the STRAIGHT leg jump through.
Why oh why have I never been able to do this!!!! Or can I?

3rd series and 'The Fear' Hanumansana.

Advanced A / 3rd series doesn't frightened me as much as Intermediate did. First time I saw Kapotasana, Dwi Pada Sirasana, Karandavasana I thought No way, it just wasn't going to happen and just accepted that Primary, assuming I could EVER nail Mari D would be enough for me. Maybe it's a guy thing but arm balances don't worry me in the least, can't wait to get my teeth into them, a little wily perhaps but nothing to be afraid of. I could already imagine my two week series of daily posts on nailing Eka pada Bakasana B or a series of posts every couple of months on Galavasana, until I eventually got the basic idea of it.

There's a lot of Leg behind head of course, but once I managed Dwi Pada in Intermediate I figured that the LBH facility would just take care of itself, later rather than sooner perhaps but eventually. As it happens perhaps it'll be sooner thanks to the last couple of weeks of Vinyasa Krama.

However there's one pose in 3rd that was a deal breaker, that put me off the whole series and gave me the Heebie-jeebies, made me think I could only ever flirt with the series and never practice it seriously.

* Hanumansana.

The Splits! The splits for heaven sake, no way this 45 year old guy is ever going to do the splits.

And yet what did I find this morning in my Youtube Subscription update, our old friend Lucas Rockwood (remember the great backbend Vids) with a tutorial on the splits.

He makes it look doable, no? I even have the blue blocks lying around here somewhere. Plus Vinyasa Krama has a sub routine on this, Visesha Vinyasa - Anjaneyasana, it starts with godhasana and then leads into and through loads of Hanumanasana variations and prep poses. Ashtanga , as much about overcoming 'The Fear' as about anything else, no?

* Picture by Emanuele Scanziani from his/her book of drawings of yoga Asana, Metamorphosis

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Leg behind head month

This is turning into LBH month. Leg behind head poses are popping up all over Vinyasa Krama, in pretty much every sequence. This morning I practiced the 'On your feet' and 'On one leg' sequences and Durvasana, the LBH while standing on one leg asana came up. I'd tried this last week but didn't think I had a hope, but after all the LBH work this week, in the other sequences, I managed to stand up and at least begin to straighten. Just managed to get my hands together in Namaste before I lost it. Balance is a problem, my leg was further over my shoulder before I began losing balance and hopping about, if I can improve my balance I should be able to come up at least a little straighter.

Had about five goes and this picture is of the best one (at least I'm facing the camera and haven't hopped off the mat). Despite all those attempts I don't feel strained in the least. Advanced A is infested with LBH so good to start improving this facility sooner rather than later. Besides I love this asana. one of the VERY cool poses and it would be nice to be able to do it well, stand up straight as you like with an air of nonchalance while waiting at the till to buy some sugar in Waitrose.

Tomorrow is Bow sequence including Kapo and lots of backbends, perhaps it makes sense having LBH on one day and backbends on another.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Struggling on to the mat

Bit of a struggle getting on the mat this morning. Woke up a little later than usual and hate practicing when I feel rushed. Also, I'd planned on practicing the Vinyasa Krama Asymmetrical seated sequence this morning. Seems harder to motivate yourself for something your not so familiar with. In the end I forced myself to think no further ahead than the Sury's and and after that a three breath standing sequence by which time I was relaxed and ready for the new sequence.

This was the second time I'd done this one and most of the poses are already familiar from Primary and Intermediate, although there are some Advanced A and B asana in there too. It flowed more easily this time with only the occasional glance at the book.
It includes
Marichiyasana A-F
Ardha Matsyendrasana (half kingfisher)
the Ardha Padmasana asanas
Maha mudra
Arkarna Danurasana (archer)
Kraunchasana (heron)
Ekapada Sirasana (including Dakshina Bhairavasana and chakorasana)
Triyan Murkha ekapadasana (leg bent back sequence)
Half lotus marichiyasanas eyc
Bharadwajasana (love this asana)

After all the half lotus work I couldn't resist throwing in a Karandavasana at the end. Came down with much more control and managed to go back up again, though with my face still mashed into the mat, but it's coming. Nice practice in the end.

While I was practicing I was thinking what a masterful weaving of asana primary is. I know it gets criticised for too much focus on forward bend but if you think of it's hip opening aspect it's marvelous. But why oh why doesn't it lead right in to leg behind head instead of having to wait until 2nd series, and even then only after backbends. Made more sense I guess when both were taught together, doesn't Tim Miller or somebody still do that?

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Leg behind head Sub-Routine

Just playing with this and seeing how each asana prepares you for the next. This followed other seated sub-routines that helped to open the hips. The trousers didn't help in Dwi Pada, was getting my right in a little deeper with just shorts. Archer pose is definitely helping here. First time doing this routine so untidy and a couple of little stumbles but managed to get my leg much further behind my shoulder and felt much more comfortable. Also just before I put my leg behind my head I straightened my back a little rather than curving it down the way I had been doing, feel my back's a little straighter as a result.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Vinyasa Krama

I'm becoming more and more attracted to Vinyasa Krama. By Vinyasa Krama I mean Krishnamachariya's style/method of yoga as presented by Ramaswami in his book The Complete book of Vinyasa Yoga. I had planned on doing one of his sequences every Sunday until I'd worked through the whole book. However, being sick this week (bad cold/man flu/ stomach bug, not sure which) and not feeling up to a full Primary or Intermediate, I've been doing one of his sequences every day.

Saturday: On your feet sequence
Sunday: Asymmetrical Sequence
Monday: On one leg Sequence
Tuesday: Supine Sequence. (was feeling lousy so only managed half the sequence)
Wednesday: Rest of Supine and Meditative Sequences (if I can drag myself out of the sickbed).
Thursday: Bow Sequence
Friday (Today) I just did primary as usual.

I'm enjoying this, feel I'm getting a broader understanding of Yoga, not just of Asana but also the breath and Bandhas. Interesting too gaining some insight into how Ashtanga was sequenced, the why and the wherefore.

As I said I decided to keep doing it this week because I was sick and wanted something a little lighter but these sequences are actually quite intense, bloody hard too in places. I can feel muscles along the whole length of my legs, following Tuesdays Supine Sequence, that I hadn't felt before

There's a different pace to the Vinyasa Krama sequences. I was going to say slower but in Ashtanga you tend to hold an Asana for five breaths, in Vinyasa Krama it tends to be three. But those three are performed more slowly and with the option of holding the breath for a count of three or five at the end of the inhale and exhale. Plus you often tend to repeat an Asana three to six times. There are Jump backs and Jump throughs in Vinyasa Krama, though slightly different in style and nowhere near as many as as in Ashtanga. They tend to come at the beginning and end of a sequence, although it's possible to add them at the end of each sub routine.

I feel I'm getting a much better understanding of the breath and engaging with it more fully. As a result my practice is calmer more peaceful. Bandhas are making more sense too, Ramaswami tells you too engage Mula bandha and then Uddiyana at the end of the exhale especially while holding the breath for a couple of seconds. There's more focus too on Jalandhara bandha (chin lock) which finally made sense in the rolling back Chakrosana (post to come), engage Jalandhara fully and back and over you go, very smooth.

And yet there's that concern that while your body is becoming better prepared within a routine for the the more challenging Asana, not doing the same Asana everyday makes you perhaps less prepared overall. That said within each routine there seems to be Asanas that would count as good preparation for the big poses. I'm talking here about Backbends, Leg behind head Karandavasana, Marichiyasana D. Backbends are OK because you can always add them on in the finishing sequence plus Dropbacks and a Karandavasana can be done anytime, anyplace anywhere but what about Kapo? It popped up (kinda) in yesterdays Supine Sequence and I did my best since coming back to Backbends a couple of weeks ago, after a six week lay off, came back up for the first time since then too. Bow sequence is great prep for Kapo too, I added one on at the end.

So I want to explore this further, perhaps spend a month or two working through the sequences and then see where I am but don't want to totally give up my primary and Intermediate. so here's the plan from this coming Sunday.

Saturday : On your feet and Seated
Sunday : Intermediate Ashtanga series
Monday : Bow and lotus Sequence
Tuesday : Triangle and Inverted Sequences
Wednesday : Asymmetrical sequence
Thursday : On one leg and Supine Sequences Meditative Sequences
Friday : Primary Ashtanga Series

Before the Vinyasa Krama sequences I'll be doing Sun salutation (Ramaswami has the mantra version in his book too) and end with the usual Ashtanga finishing sequence and Dropbacks plus Ramaswami's Winding down procedure, basically Pranayama.

What's interesting me about Ramaswami's book is the, if you like, pre sequencing. You just have all the one legged asanas one after another in order of difficulty, each sub routine preparing you for the next. then you have all the Supine poses say, or the lotus poses, half and full.

I'm considering the pros and con's of looking at my practice daily or weekly. In a daily Ashtanga practice you have a sequence of different kinds of asana and if you look at Vinyasa Krama that way then it suffers from being only one group/kind. But if you look at it weekly then Vinyasa Krama is covering all types of asana more fully. And each asana/variation, it's argued, treats the body in subtly different way. Over a week you might do the same Ashtanga practice, the same asanas every day, day in day out. Unless of course you are very advanced in which case you might do a different Ashtanga series each day, thus covering a similar range of asanas to Vinyasa Krama. In the long run perhaps they come to the same point.

Developing a Home practice Part 23. Then and Now.

While moving files from the old eMac to the new iMac I came across some old movies hidden away in iPhoto. They were taken a few months after I first started practicing Ashtanga. They are all of either the Standing or finishing sequence suggesting I hadn't yet moved on to seated. I'm guessing Early summer 07, so pretty much two years ago.

I'm a bit embarrassed to post them as I was carrying a lot of weight then and looked clumsy and awkward, but it does go to show that you CAN do this practice even if you are overweight and not at all flexible. It also speaks to the effect of the practice.

I'm guessing Jun 07

Jun 09

Two more

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Vinyasa Krama . Part of one legged sequence, Standing Marichiyasana

From Sundays first attempt at Ramaswami's one legged standing sequence. A one legged standing version of Marichiyasana A

Didn't expect so much from this sequence at first but its challenging. Lots of squatting involved which is bloody hard. Utthita hasta pangusthasana's for instance. Lots of tree pose variations and squatting versions of them, squatting half lotus etc. Then there's the Marichiyasana and a warrior pose sequence and finishing off with a standing leg behind head sequence, ruddy squatting in that too. Managed to get my leg behind but had to lean up against the wall to stop myself falling over. Forward bending LBH was OK, but squatting? Forgetaba.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Eka pada Sirasana , Ramaswami approach.

So I'm still exploring Ramaswami's Vinyasa yoga. Yesterday, my rest day, I did his light standing sequence and today I decided to sacrifice an Intermediate and have a go at his Asymmetrical seated sequence. I still haven't figured out how this method works. Do you tend to do one sequence a day, today seated tomorrow inverted etc. or do you do you sequence it yourself, taking a little from each, I suspect the later. Anyway I did a quick Ashtanga Standing and Finishing sandwiching the Ramaswami sequence. It took me about two hours altogether but there was a lot of stopping on the first side to refer to his book.

It was fun and without all the Jumping back much calmer, good focus on the breath and bandhas. Basically your working through every one legged seated asana, bit like an extended Ashtanga Primary seated sequence. It does make you look at Ashtanga in a new light, quite in awe of how Ashtanga was worked out, how each series became sequenced. However it makes you question some things too.
Kapo for instance seems well prepped but what about Eka pada Sirasana. I struggled with this when I first started in Intermediate (still do) and ended up chucking in some primary half lotus seated as extra preparation. In Ramaswami's Vinyasa yoga, Eka pada comes towards the end of the sequence about twenty asana's in. It follows Akarna danurasana (archer pose) and kraunchasana (heron pose) and a bunch of half lotus asanas and Marichi twists. I found it much easier getting in and felt much more comfortable staying there. Below is a video of a portion of the sequence leading up to Eka pada. I was doing this along with the book so some of the transitions and breathing sequence might be a bit out but you should be able to get the general idea.

Like I said it's interesting and worth exploring. I think I'll spend the next few Sundays doing a different sequence or two, some are shorter than others. Next week the Seated posterior stretch sequence, which includes, belly twists, pelvic floor poses,desk poses, leg and arm lifts, shoulder stands and even some circular ambulations (?). The poses in Ramaswami's sequences cover the full range of poses, from one star (beginner) to five stars (advanced). You would find asana from Primary to Fourth series Ashtanga. Today's Asymmetrical one legged seated, for instance, finished with Purna Matsyendrasana (kingfisher pose).

Friday, 12 June 2009

Mula bandha '....helps to pull the pelvis off the hip joint'

I keep talking about the hips and pelvis together but noticed Ramaswami as saying that Mula bandha '....helps to pull the pelvis off the hip joint' (Yoga beneath the surface). I remember too that Lydia from her 'Being with Yoga' blog talks about the 'pelvis in space'. What is it to focus on the pelvis rather than the hips, does this make a difference, is this helpful?

Here's another quote from Ramaswami

"... Now in the same pose (pasmasana), after a complete exhalation, if you contract the glutei (rectum), and pull up the pelvic floor, you will be doing Mula bandha. Then, if in a continuous motion, you draw the abdomen inward and backward, you have the two bandhas, mula and uddiyana. by raising the pelvic floor in mula bandha, you are able to pull up the hip joint from inside. With the hip joint freed, it becomes, it becomes easier to keep the back erect and do jalahandra bandha by stretching the cervical spine." (p148)
Yoga beneath the surface.
Srivatsa Ramaswami

Friday, so Primary series today. I spent the whole practice with my head up my own.... well pelvis. I tried to focus on Mula bandha throughout, but where is it exactly. Everyone seems to have a different view on what and where Mula bandha is, focus on tightening your rectum, fix your attention on your perineum or on the pelvic floor muscles. Try to bring your pubic bone and your tailbone together, or is it bring your sit bones together. Basically, throughout the practice I shifted my attention all over the shop, from one of the above to the other.

Did it make a difference? Well yes actually, perhaps it's just a case of having your attention fixed on the pelvic area rather than on the hip bones but I did seem to be getting more lift. My press to handstand was the best yet as was the lowering back down after jumping back to standing from Down dog. I pulled half a handstand in Navasana and while I didn't notice much difference in my jump back I certainly noticed something in my Jump through, much more controlled. At the end of my practice I couldn't resist it and just before headstand I threw in Karandavasana. Focussed on my perineum and activating every muscle and it's brother in the pelvic area, lots ofUddiyana too and up I went. And that was the first time I'd raised the wiley duck in about a month. Still a bit squished and lacking in grace, but that duck flew

So I'm going to go with Pascal here and act as if there is something to the whole mula bandha deal even if it's nothing more than the fixing of attention in a more effective place for beginning the lift.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Press to handstand, navasana to handstand, coming back up in Karandavasana

OK, enough mucking about, I want to get this. I've started to see a pattern emerging, the Press to handstand, Navasana to handstand, coming back up in Karandavasana, they all seem to be concerned with getting the hips /pelvis up. I suspect that the secret to all of them is the lower back muscles, arching the back slightly to help bring your hips/pelvis back and up.

Have had some success. I tried some exercises yesterday evening and managed a press to handstand this morning and a float up and slow lower that I was quite happy with .

Below are the exercises. Not pretty perhaps but seem to be effective. The first one is going up to handstand, spreading your legs and lowering while trying to keep your backside in contact with the wall until your feet touch the floor. Then the same thing going back up. Kino demonstrates this option on her DVD as a fun way to come out of Prasarita padottanasana D. The next couple of exercises are the same but with legs together in preparation for the press to handstand.

These exercises are great for training you to keep your hips/pelvis raised for longer but there's still the issue of how to raise the pelvis/hips in the first place. I noticed that in my forward bend there's still a degree of curving of my back. It used to be terrible and it took a lot of work in pushing back in Downward dog and really trying to stick my backside out that I managed to reduce it. It's better, but still there and I'm attempting to raise from there rather than just my hips and I think that may be what's holding me back.

In the press to handstand, the first video, I try to reduce that even further by almost arching my back and it's that I think that made the difference in helping me get my hips up, quite way to go on this but I think I might be on to something.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Book review. The complete book of Vinyasa Yoga by Srivatsa Ramaswam

Link to Amazon where you can LOOK INSIDE

This arrived yesterday and it's great. Srivatsa Ramaswami, I love this guy! Love how he writes, his lightness of touch, his gentleness. He suggests things ....' I suggest three minutes at first.' he recommends ' First choose a comfortable seated pose. It would be good to take a Yogic pose- the following are some I recommend.' He encourages, ' Slowly and surely both these parameters will improve. You will stay with the breath longer.'
Use the LOOK INSIDE feature on Amazon and get a taste for his style, it's charming and delightful.

Ramaswami seeks to present a fuller treatment of Krishnamachariya's teaching, with whom he studied for over thirty years. The book presents around 900* asana divided into sequences, so you have the standing sequence, seated sequence, inverted sequence etc. If we take the Asymmetrical seated sequence, he begins with a vinyasa into Dandasana and then works through all the one legged poses you can think of, the Marichi's, Eka pada's Bow pose, Heron pose etc, then you vinyasa out and in and start on the other leg, this is basically the idea for all the other sequences. There are something like 1100 pictures.

He's very concerned with the breath, long inhalations and exhalations in the poses and a strong focus on Bandhas. It's very familiar to this Ashtangi, yet softer. I don't feel like giving up my Ashtanga practice just yet but should I become injured in any way this would be the book I would turn to. It makes me think that if I ever get too old or my life became too complicated to practice Ashtanga I would still be able to practice Vinyasa yoga (this is something that had worried me). It's already made me think that it would be nice to practice this method one day a week. Maybe not at the moment as I'm too into my present practice but I was tempted.

Although I'm not going to be switching to his method anytime soon (I love my Ashtanga), I think I'll be incorporating some of his suggestions and recommendations. His slowing of the breath for instance and he's the first guy I've read who makes me want to take Moola Bandha more seriously. Best of all he has a wonderful section at the end called 'Winding down', which is basically Pranayama and meditation. The whole book is nery well presented but this section is particularly good, very approachable. I added it on to the end of my practice this morning and loved it so much that I'll be adding ten to fifteen minutes of Pranayama to my practice every morning.
I ordered another of his books, Yoga beneath the surface just before writing this post.

* Although the publishers say 900 or so asana a couple of hundred of those will be the same asana but with a different leg.

Developing a Home Practice Part 22. This practice we do can be exhausting

Great if we're practicing in Goa and can spend the rest of the day on the beach, going to bed at 8pm, but assuming we're working, how do we live with this intense practice. This question came up elsewhere and it made me think how I coped with this in the beginning and occasionally still do.

It takes time to develop the stamina needed for this pratice and it never lets up. Once you learn the first series you start working on improving your vinyasa perhaps, exhausting. Once your comfortable with that you start adding on 2nd and have that long long practice until the split. But 2nd is knackering too, so no let up there, and then it all starts again with 3rd. And of course you have off days when you seem to lack energy and you try to remember if the moon was full and if perhaps there is something to that lunar nonsense after all. The beginnings of a cold or end of a cold, a later night than usual, an extra glass of wine or larger helping of pasta. You can improve your diet of course and give up the drink and go to bed early but even then you have off days.

Anyway this is how I occassionally dealt with/deal with this exhausting practice of ours.

Taking the vinyasa after each Asana rather than each side helps conserve some energy. I've done that when I had a cold or was running late. I also did it when I was just getting the Jump back and wanted to conserve some energy and rather than try Jumping back and through each time approached it more strategically. When I was adding on Intermediate up to Kapo and getting really tired I sometimes did the same thing. How many Sury A' and B's are you doing? Dropping it back to three of each is acceptable, especially in the warmer months, or perhaps five A's 3 B's. Make the first four Navasana's shallow but the last one a good one.
Reflect on your practice weekly rather than daily. Focus on your Mari's one day but be gentle with the rest of the practice. Another day focus on Kurmasana's and another on forward bends. Over the week it evens out. I'm sometimes doing this with Intermediate at the moment, one day really going for it up to Kapo and cruising the rest of the series another day cruising up to Kapo and focussing on LBH. On my day off and Sunday I give myself a really intense practice and try and do each pose the best I can, the rest of the week can almost be preperation for these days.

There will be days when your practice flows and you seem to have all the energy in the world. Your present in every pose and float like a butterfly through each vinyasa. Each binding pose is fully bound and there's not a waver in your balancing asanas. Your strong and graceful, elegant and poised......Next Year in Jerusalem

Ahimsa (non-violence) is one of the Yama's promoted by Ashtanga, be kind to yourself.

Unassisted Supta Vajrasana for Billy no mates

Got this way of doing this from Richard Freeman's Intermediate DVD. Sunday was the first time I managed to get my head all the way to the floor and back up again without my hands slipping off my toes.
Last time I posted on an attempt at this I received a great tip from Owl. She suggested using a larger mat (a rolled up Manduka?) and aiming the elbows for the mat. I remembered it wrong and aimed my elbows for just over the mat but it seemed to work just as well. The important point seems to be to think about landing the elbows and then worry about the head getting to the floor. Coming up think about pulling the elbows together rather than just pulling on the toes.

'Billy no mates' refers to a character who doesn't have any friends, from the UK comic VIZ .

Sunday, 7 June 2009

First time coming up from Urdhva Dhanurasana

While I'm able to come up from UD following a dropback, I've never managed to come up from a straight Urdhva Dhanurasana. Quite surprised me this morning when it happened. This last week I've been feeling comfortable taking a couple of steps in and feeling my weight shift more towards my legs, all it took was a couple of rocks back and forth and a good inhale and I was up.

A few months back when I was focusing on backbends and trying to come up I felt that trying to come straight up from UD potentially put too much strain on the back. It somehow felt less of a strain to try and come up after dropping back, for that reason I haven't tried coming up that seriously until this morning. Guess I was just ready.

I left a dropback on the end of the video because I don't usually video these up close like this, thought it gave a clear view on how I'm going about it at the moment.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Floating Bakasana B

Managed to consolidate Bakasana this evening. I was afraid I might lose it by the morning, had five goes and landed every one, each a little smoother than the last.

To me it seems that I'm jumping up to a half handstand, holding it there and then employing a subtle shift of the weight forward, my shoulders moving slightly further over my hands, almost over my fingers as I lower. I think I'm curling my legs in as if I was curling in a half lotus in Karandavasana. As I lower it feels like I'm bringing my chest through and ever so slightly up. I seem to have the balance and shifting of the weight right, such that I'm not really feeling much of a strain holding it. This seems less and less about strength than about balance, guess that's why they call it an arm balance.

I'm not happy with is the exit though. I want to be able to bring myself back up a bit and float back but the most I can manage is a kick straight back. Any ideas?

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Lack of motivation for 2nd / getting on the mat + Bakasana

Those 108 Sun salutations really took it out of me, and yet..... (I'll get to the 'and yet' in a moment). First of all I'd rested on Saturday then did the 108 Sunday. Because my hamstrings ached so much on Monday I rested them, too afraid that I might pull a muscle if I didn't. So three days without a proper practice.

I've been finding it hard to get on the mat for Intermediate. Primary would have been OK. It's so familiar and while never easy, you can take it easy if you want to. I know it so well now that I can pretty much flow through it on Auto. Intermediate however you know is going to hurt, be hard work. your going to sweat buckets and be on your edge pretty much all the way through . Hard to get on the mat for a practice like that.

Tuesday was my day off and it took me till around 12.00 before I finally got myself together and forced myself to practice,. Yesterday I was half asleep and only remembered I was going to do 2nd half way through standing. This morning was hardest of all. In the end I forced myself not to think about it and just get on the mat for standing and by the time I finished that I hoped I would be more up for 2nd.

As it turned out, and is so often the way, it ended up being a great practice. I managed to come up really nicely in Laghu, and drop back, oh so slowly, in Kapo. My Bakasana was perhaps my best ever, and here's the 'and yet' re the 108 sun salutations. It might have made me feel like I was walking around with footballer thighs, but my arms and shoulders felt much stronger and it's really helped my Bakasana. I managed to go back on my own as far as touching my head on the floor in Supta Vajrasana AND come all the way back up again without letting go of my toes and oh so nearly made Supta Urdhava Pada Vajrasana without dropping my toe ( see video).

So Note to self: Some of those mornings you really don't want to get on the mat may well turn out to be the best practice of the week.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Developing a Home practice part 21b, Approaching Intermediate

Last week, in this series, I re posted a post from December 08 that asked 'When to begin Intermediate'. I was given a bit of a hard time in the comments section following the original post for even considering it. The argument being that poses should only be given by a teacher. Or even if you didn't have a teacher then there were certain requirements, gateway poses, that you had to be able to do before you could move on to 2nd. It was stressed that I should be able to come up from Urdhva Dhanurasana, for instance, before I even considered moving on.

Funny, but I didn't realise that I had taken these comments to heart because I just looked at the following January and the whole month is pretty much devoted to coming up from Urdhva Dhanurasana.

I'm always surprised by how insistent some practitioners are that you have to practice in the correct way in the correct order, only moving on when given permission to do so. It's as if, how to practice as well as what to practice, is all set down in stone somewhere. This from David Williams
'I returned to India and I came up to Mysore and I started learning. I was with Nancy Gilgoff and we stayed in Mysore for four months. I learned first series, second series, and half of third series, plus the pranayama....'
'....At the time Guruji spoke very little English. So, the way I would learn was I would come early and watch somebody else doing the practice and memorize the postures that were ahead of me. I set a discipline of tryin to learn eight postures a day and this is how I managed to learn the first two and half of the third series at this time.'
David Williams - Maui 2001 Interviews Friday, 30 November 2007

No mention here of Guruji hitting him over the head with a stick for trying Kapo. If you read some of those old interviews you get the feeling that the method for transmitting the practice was evolving constantly. Full vinyasa up to the 80's and then a shift to half. People being moved along more quickly until the size of classes forced a reapproachment and students became held back longer. But we don't have to go back to the 70's and 80's, how often to we come across this expression "this is how it's being practiced in Mysore now".

There's a defensiveness that I really don't understand, what are people afraid of? I can understand that AYRI wants to keep some control of how the practice is taught, preserved. I hate the idea of just anyone being able to set themselves up as an Ashtanga teacher, as much as anyone else. I actually find it uncomfortable that some young practitioner can practice for a couple of years, go to Mysore a few times, and become authorised to teach, to TEACH. Great you can do the poses but to teach, the psychology involved in that, maturity required, well it gives me pause. I used to teach teachers how to teach, it's not that easy, more to it than just communicating poses.

But then in the end I practice at home and that gives me a lot of freedom to develop my practice as I see fit. I happen to call it Ashtanga and feel secure in that, you can call it what you want. If I went to a Shala I would feel obliged to paractice in accordance with the house rules.

I approached 2nd pretty much in the same way I'd approached Primary. I had Swensons book and DVD, and I worked through the whole series a couple of times following the Video, taking some of David's variations from the book where the poses were too difficult. I'd done that a couple of times in and around December 08 and then threw myself ,with purpose, into 2nd in January.

I started to practice in the evenings. With the time constraints of having to go to work I was struggling with practicing Intermediate in the morning. It was all too disjointed, I was struggling with poses, taking several attempts and still trying to work too many things out. This was fine, and fun, on my day off or Sunday but on a work day it was frustrating and unsatisfying.

Evenings worked well but I began to miss Primary. There was still no flow to my Intermediate and I was struggling with the transitions. I started to practice Primary in the morning and Intermediate in the evenings. This evolved into practicing Primary on mornings when I had to go to work and intermediate on my day off and Sunday. In the evenings I would do a shortened standing followed by Intermediate up to Kapo or Bakasana and work on dropbacks.

Looking back on it now I think that the way the Intermediate is being taught in the Shala's makes more sense. While I think Tim Miller's style of teaching Primary altogether (so I hear) is ideal, I think the method of adding on poses in 2nd is probably the best way of going about it. I just jumped straight into 2nd and my practice became ragged. I lost all the flow that I had in Primary it was no longer a meditation.

If I was to do it again, I would start adding on the Intermediate poses up to Kapo over a month or two until it became comfortable and smooth and stick with that for a month or so. Then I would just start adding poses the criteria being that your familiar with them enough to be able to move into the next with some degree of flow. Maybe Split at Karandavasana. I think a variation of a pose is fine, I really don't feel that you should be held back at a pose for months if not years, it's not Iyenga for Christ sake. The pose will come, you'll bind a little more deeply in the Mari's, get a bit further back and closer to your toes in your Kapo. over time.

I made the split to Intermediate and it becoming my main practice last week. I practice all of Intermediate now, Sunday to Thursday, with Primary on Friday and resting Saturday. I have a bit of a flow going, coming up in Karanda is inconsistent and my Supta Urdhva Pada Vajrasana is still a bit of a joke. Every pose needs work, but it feels a nice practice now. It's taken six months to get to this point, I think if I'd added poses in the manner above rather than trying to switch to it all in one go it would have been a more enjoyable process.

Next : Dropbacks, Coming up, Kapo, Dwi pada and Karandavasana Intermediate transitions.

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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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