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Friday, 28 May 2010

Podcast on Prana, Pranayama and Kundalini

I mentioned this website, Vedanta and Yoga podcast on a previous post but it was a little hidden away. I've been listening to it all week and am quite taken with it. The podcast below are based on Vivekananda's book Raja Yoga. Vivekananda was highly influential in the popular revival of yoga in India at the end of the 19th century. Although he wasn't so much interested in Hatha yoga ( see Mark Singleton's book for a discussion of why) Ashtangai's tend to have strong leanings towards Raja yoga, Patanjali's Yoga Sutra's for example, can be said to be a Raja yoga text.

So I practice Pranayama, everyday, ten to twenty minutes, before and after my asana practice. I practice it as an aid to meditation and as an exercise in concentration. However, I'm aware, and have been for awhile, that prana doesn't stand for breath so much as a kind of energy.Pranayama is supposed to be about controlling this energy, controlling the breath is just one aspect of this larger scheme. In fact as I found out from the lectures, it's not even about controlling the breath so much as the motion of the lungs, well there you go.

The whole Prana/Apana Kundalini model is a bit of a turn off for me I have to admit. I tend to glaze over and switch off. On a good day I accept that there is no doubt a useful and interesting model there but that it's been appropriated by the New Age 'industry' that probably doesn't do it justice. Not dismissing the New Age movement out of hand but just the industry that's built up around it and smothered it such that I wouldn't know where to start to find something genuine.

I'm not that interested in finding bliss, self realization or stepping outside the cycle of rebirth. All I want from all this is clarity of mind, focus and concentration and most of all a way of experiencing Heidegger's deconstruction of the Subject and Object experiential rather than merely intellectually, some regular glimpses behind the veil perhaps. If self realization comes as a by product of that then fine but I'm not aiming so high or holding my breath and not even convinced there's a self to be realized. But hey, things change, never thought I'd be chanting.

So lectures/podcasts on Prana, Apana and Kundalini that grab and hold MY attention must be worth listening too. I like them because they're based, as I said on Vivekananda's hundred year old text. I feel I have a bit of a grasp now of the Prana model and how Pranayama relates to it. Not sure how much of it I'll be taking on board but I just ordered the book and want to know more.

You can go to itunes, search for Vedanta and yoga and find the whole Raja yoga series or you can just go for the Prana sections below.

I have a feeling that Krishnamacharya taught at the Vivekananda institute after leaving Mysore but am not sure for how long, want to check that out.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

The dread of 2nd, gone AWOL

The dread, what happened to the dread.

Didn't feel like practicing yesterday. Was woken by my alarm at 5:30 from a very deep realistic dream, got up and was bumping into this, dropping that, was all over the place.

I'd planned on practicing 2ND but all the way through the Sury's and Standing thought, to hell with it I'll practice Primary. Just changed practice rooms too so still not comfortable in the new/old room.

At the last minute I changed my mind and went into Pasasana rather than Paschimottanasa and got on with Intermediate.

Now I've never really liked 2ND, mostly because it just wasn't Primary which I loved. Where Primary felt flowing and meditative, Intermediate always felt disjointed, a chore. I liked the challenges of some of the big asanas, liked working on them but never really enjoyed them within the practice. I've always had a dread of 2ND. There I've said it, dread. Primary days have me bouncing out of Bed, Intermediate days you'd think I was shuffling grimly to the gallows. I'd do it but rarely loved it, just told myself it's a discipline, later a regime.

Not only did I dread the series but also the individual asana. OK, ruddy Krounchasana (hate it), Kapo is coming, Dwi pada which I like, but is a bind (pun totally intended) and again a chore. And now the ruddy Titti's which squeeze the sweat out of me like I'm a lemon ( a sweaty lemon) and send my breath all over the place. Get through all that and you have Karanda coming up, it's like a video game where each bad guy gets meaner than the last. And then at the end of it all you have dropbacks. Again, interesting to work on but a pain at the end of practice.

But back to yesterday... sans dread. Just rolled on through the series. Sure it could have been prettier, better aligned but the breath was pretty good throughout, no one asana felt like it dominated, almost felt like I was practicing Primary. It flowed and it was meditative.

And then the same thing this morning. No dread of the series as I got up to practice and again no dread of individual poses.

So if, like me, you've asked if that dread ever goes away, well yes, it just might.

Thinking about why. I have a feeling it's something to do with feeling more accomplished in all the big poses. I can do a mean drop to the heels from the air kapo now which means I can take it easy and still drop back into something respectable without giving it 100%, I can take it easy. All the VK seated work I've done recently seems to have given me deeper LBH's. Karanda is back and relatively comfortable. Backbends and dropbacks are such that I really look forward to them now. Not having to worry so much about the big poses I can get on and delight in those that come between.

Of course it might be back tomorrow.

Kind of want to practice 2nd everyday now, scared to take a day off for Primary or Rest in case it returns.

VK On your feet / Tadasana sequence

Plus Pasasana prep

This is the first Vinyasa Krama sequence in Srivatsa Ramaswami's Complete book of Vinyasa Yoga. It's probably what I'll be working on, this time next week, on the first asana class of the 200hr TT course in LA.

I'm practicing all the sequences in the book this week, kind of brushing up before the course starts. I figure the more familiar I am with the overall structure of a sequence the more I'll be able to pay attention to the detail. If you've seen any of the other posts on the individual sequences you'll know that in the videos I make a lot of mistakes and wrong turns, missing bits out here, adding bits there. The video then is just a suggestion of the sequence, an attempt to lift it off the page.

I haven't spent much time on the sequence as a whole, I tend to use parts of it before I do anything else in my practice, pre Sury stretching if you will. I use the back stretching section if I'm doing 2nd series Ashtanga and the forward bending part for Primary. If your coming from Ashtanga this sequence is a bit of a culture shock, you finish it and think OK that's Standing out the way what's next. That's a shame because It's a nice sequence, I like to take it really slow and do some serious breath and bandha work.

Here's the outline of the subroutines

Chapter I. On your Feet sequence
1. Samasthitis 2. hasta vinyasas (arm movements). 3.parsva
bhangis (side poses) 4. ardha uttanasana (half forward stretch) 5. uttanasana 6.ardha
utkatasana 7. utkatasana (hip stretch/squat) 8 malasana/kanchyasana (noose postures)9 pasasana 10. tadasana.

And the video speeded up x4 to fit on Youtube with their ten minute limit. You'll notice I turn around a lot on the video, this is to show the behind the back hand variations.

Pasasana prep.
It struck me this morning that the section on squatting and twisting might make excellent prep for pasasana. This section could perhaps be done before the Sury's Just as I start with the backbend section in prep for 2nd series backbends. here it is lifted from the full sequence above at normal speed.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Aches and pains, 'tis but a scratch, I've had worse'

This came up in a comment, whether I had any aches and pains or not and I realized It's something I hardly ever write about.

Having decided to write a post on this I'm still finding it difficult.

"Do you have any aches and pains?"

"Well what kind?"
"I don't know, the usual"

"Have you seen a doctor?"
" A, Doctor? Are you kidding, wouldn't want to waste their time?"

Once spent a week doubled up in agony, getting up in the night to sit in hot or could baths but refusing to see a doctor. When I did finally go, after much nagging and threats, it turned out I had kidney stones.

How, so very, English. You may scoff over there in the US? Well, you have National Health Insurance now (kind of, dont you?), give it fifty years and you'll be the same. Wont want to be a bother.

"Well how about, alternative therapies"
"What are you crazy, pay for some treatment that's not recognized by the NHS (National Health Service), not on your nelli sir".

How even more English.

So here's my list

Troublesome knee, from old Aikido injury, right one doesn't bend as fully as the left.

Echo of an overstretched right hamstring. Don't think I pulled it completely but I've had to go easy with it for a year, almost fine now.

Right psoas pain, I think it's psoas. feel it most after the right side of Eka Pada Sirsasana, irritating.

Twinge in right Shoulder or rather just below the shoulder going down my arm. Doesn't really bother me but notice it when I raise my arms above my head so I tend to be mindful of it.

Occasional stiff neck after long headstands (20 minutes or more )

Back pain, little way above the small of my back on the right side close to the spine, from old old back injury. Aware of it through most back bends which again made me mindful and possibly overcautious for a long time. Now I do quite deep back bends and it's no different from doing a shallow UD

Sore Coccyx, comes and goes but made jumping back a pain as well Navasana.

There, I feel so much better now.

Not having a dig here at those who do write about their Aches, pains and injuries but rather at myself and English men in general with their faux stoicism and absurd resistance to 'bothering' the doctor( or is that just me?). And as for our feelings about alternate therapies that borders on contempt, what's that all about.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Summer Shala

Moving my practice back downstairs for the summer, Nietzsch' (Chinchilla) gets some peace 'till next winter.

I tend to get restless when I change rooms so a Straight forward Primary tomorrow morning, looking forward to it.

Nice practice this morning, VK Inverted Sequence ten minutes in Shoulder stand variations, half an hour headstand variations, two breaths a minute, very very mellow practice. Pranayama, Pratyahara...

Might be getting a flotation tank package for my birthday, serious Pratyahara, anyone tried it? is it cheating?

Friday, 21 May 2010

New Evening practice, Prep for Pranayama and meditation + Vedanta and Yoga

Started a new evening practice. Just a few key asana (about half an hour) as prep for the Pranayama and Meditation. It cut's into my meditation time, I'm used to forty minutes Vipassana in the evening, but I'm becoming sold on the idea of preparing for the sit rather than jumping straight on the cushion. Still doing my usual VK modified Ashtanga practice in the morning.

Chanted Sury Namaskara
Maha Mudra (like Janu A without the forward bend, all locks engaged)
5 minute Sarvangasana (plus a minute or two of Shoulder stand prep poses)
10 minute Sirsasana (headstand)
Badha konasana

10-20 minutes Pranayama ( kapalabhati and Anuloma Viloma)
5-10 minutes Pratyahara
20- 30 minutes Dhyanna/Meditation

Takes an hour to ninety minutes depending how much time I have to practice.

Came across an interesting podcast too while researching Pratyahara Wrote a post on this earlier in the week). Go to Itunes and look up Vedanta and Yoga then scroll through the podcasts until you reach 142. Raja Yoga Pratyahara and Dharana It's episode seven of a series on Vivekananda's Raja Yoga ( just downloaded the rest of the series). Mark Singleton in Yoga Body credit's Vivekananda with being highly influential in the Yoga revival in India in the late 1800's. You can also find it in the Ramakrishna Vedanta society Boston websites podcast Archive here.

Just started reading the Mahabharata, love it, kind of like being able to read The Iliad for the first time all over again. Just waiting for Arjuna or somebody to throw a spear or rock that no ten men of today could life... and for someone to fall from the chariot with a clang of armour as darkness falls upon him.

Just heard about this in in London on Sunday here's the link, may well be going.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

A Joyous 2nd and backbend progress

Didn't feel like practicing this morning, but having watched the movie 300 last night, I didn't want to let King Leonides down and forced myself on to my own Thermopylae. Hey, whatever gets you on the mat, right.

As usual when I don't feel like practicing but do, it turned out to be a quite joyous practice. 10 minutes pranayama, a straight forward 2nd with no extra bits, 10 minute headstand, ten of pranayama and and ten more of pratyahara.

It was hot too, Thermopylae indeed, (hot gates), sweated a kilo and a half.

Intermediate yesterday too but with VK extras and some experimentation

I tried keeping my feet a little closer together and turning them slightly in, not really working for me, will keep at it though. However, dropping back a little closer to my feet is helping me come up more smoothly. Smoother dropback too as I'm starting to get the balance right between stretching back and pushing my pelvis ever further forward.

Kapo, heels from air.
I'm getting a deeper Kapo landing and walking in, managed to get my hands comfortably on my ankles yesterday but I do like the dropping straight back to the heels. The stretching the arms out before I fold my hands behind my head seems to be giving me the opportunity to push my hips forward a little and land on my heels rather than half way up my feet.

Ganda B
Got this tip from yogamatfire about bringing the heels out and down.

'As you start to bring your feet over instead of bring them down, bring the heels as far as you can *out* and away from your pelvis. Keep bringing the heels out, out out ..... and then down'

He also suggested I start further from the wall but I still seem to need it as a security blanket. Didn't get any closer to my head this time but it felt different and seems worth exploring for a couple of weeks.


Sutra II.54 Dissociation is when the senses, disjoined from their respective objects, assume as it were the nature of mind itself

Sutra II.55 From that, supreme mastery of the senses

Recently I've become interested in exploring Indriya-pratyahara, or the control of the senses. Is it just me or is Pratyahara a neglected limb. It only gets two obvious sutra's in Patanjali, but then so does Asana. You could argue that sight and sound are addressed in Ashtanga with the focus on Drishti and Ujaii, touch possibly through asana but what about taste and smell (though we do tend to try olfactory withdrawal with regard to our smelly mats).

Ramaswami has a little section on Pratyahara in his book but it's a little unsatisfying. He has the posture yoni mudra where you seal you ears with your thumbs, eyes by putting the first finger lightly above the eyeball and the index finger on the eyelid. The ring fingers sits softly on each side of the nose and the little finger at the corner of the mouth. Sit like that for five minutes or so after pranayama and that's about it.

Searching around the net I came across this article by Charles MacInerney. The last two paragraphs contain an interesting meditation technique. I used to get up after pranayama and throw the clock with the noisy ticking out of the room or bury it under the futon, now I welcome it and the opportunity to shift the focus from the ticking to something more subtle and more subtle still. You'll see what I'm talking about when you get to the end of the article. over to you Charles.

PRATYAHARA - Sense Withdrawel by Charles MacInerney

The fifth limb of Raja Yoga is called Pratyahara and means sense withdrawal. Before the mind can turn in on itself all connections with the external world must be severed. Only when the practitioner is free from external distractions will he be successful at following the inward journey of self discovery. I would like to point out that I am not talking of controlling, or enduring sensations! I am talking about the ability to withdraw from them at will. The true story that I started this lecture with illustrates this common source of confusion in students practicing Meditation, and Pratyahara. Many students suffer through pains and itches while meditating without flinching and believe they have mastered Pratyahara. The truth is, had they mastered Pratyahara there would have been no pain, no itch.

Here in the West we are starting to explore Pratyahara in terms of pain management as an alternative to drug therapy. In fact, many types of pain cannot be controlled with drugs. I once heard Elizabeth Kubla Ross compare chronic pain to being in a room with a roaring fire in the center. Even when flattened against the wall the fire still burns you. In desperation patients often 'hurl themselves' into the fire in a vain attempt to put it out. But pain is a bottomless pit which will always exist and cannot be extinguished. Focussing on pain only magnifies it and strengthens it until it fills your entire universe. The secret is to find the door to the room, and leave the room and the fire far behind. Simply walk away from it. This is a form of sense withdrawal. It does not mean enduring pain. It means leaving it behind as you walk down the 'Eight Fold Path' of Raja Yoga.

But pain is only one aspect of the senses and by no means the most dangerous. Pleasurable sensations are equally distracting, and pose an even greater threat to the serious student of Raja Yoga. Just as attention magnifies pain, so does attention magnify pleasure. The problem is that while the motivation to withdraw from pain is obvious, the motivation to withdraw from pleasurable sensations is more abstract. Why would one wish to escape from pleasurable sensations? The answer to this question lies in another question: are you content with your life as it is? If yes, then you have no need of Yoga. A 'general discontent', the desire to fulfill your true potential, these are the motivations for breaking the cast iron chains of pain as well as the golden chains of pleasure. A chain is a chain is a chain.

This leaves us with the question of how to withdraw from the senses. The key to this problem lies in taking a positive approach to the senses rather than a negative approach. If you are trying not to hear a noise, you are in effect, fixating on it. The harder you try not to hear it, the louder it becomes. What ever you pay attention to becomes brighter, louder, more intense. The solution is to pay attention to the most subtle sound/sight./sensation.

I recommend you begin the practice of sense withdrawal by focusing on sounds. With eyes closed, covered, or lights turned out, listen to all the sounds in your environment. Of all the sounds you can hear, choose to focus on the most subtle. As you improve your ability to focus your mind, the most subtle sound will become louder, and louder. Then ask yourself, is there a more subtler sound beneath the one you are focussing on. Shift your attention to this new sound until it becomes louder.

This is the most important aspect of this practice... do not attempt to "not hear" the louder sounds. Let them come and go. They are of no consequence. Stay focused on the most subtle. As you step back further and further along this chain of sounds you eventually hear your own breathing, beneath that perhaps your heart, beneath that... eventually you are hearing imaginal sounds, sounds of consciousness. Of all of these imaginal sounds, which is the most subtle? Focus on that. Eventually they say that you hear the sound of creation. The echo left over from the big bang, and when asked what does that sound like the sages would reply AAAUUUMMM.... AAAUUUMMM.... AAAUUUMMM.

Anyone come across anything interesting on Pratyahara or some similar techniques from other disciplines would love to hear about it?

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Manduka prolite ? UPDATE picked up a Prana Eco hmmmm

Has anyone practiced Ashtanga on the Manduka Prolite ? How is it?

I need a travel mat for the Vinyasa Krama TT and can't bare to risk my Black mat. I figure the prolite will be fine for the Vinyasa Krama but I'm bound to want to do a some ashtanga on the side.
I considered some of the other travel mats around but I'm too used to my Manduka, even a light version is going to be traumatic.

Oh, and anyone come across the orange one in the UK or perhaps Europe. The places that seem to sell Manduka online don't seem to have it in that colour. Always wanted an orange mat or towel.

Yes Yes, I know they call it apricot rather than orange but I have issues.

UPDATE: Disaster, I think the Orange (apricot) may have been discontinued. All I want is an Orange Manduka lite, is that too much to ask, yes yes, I know, ruddy non attachment.

I'm guessing though that there's some guy out there who bought the Orange mat, took it to the Shala the next morning and someone said " Oh you bought the Apricot Manduka" whereupon he shoved it in the garage somewhere and bought the manly black mat. If you want to sell the apricot let me know, I can handle it, as a home Ashtangi VK I don't have to worry about Shala shame and besides, nobody knows me in lala land

Manduka has some mat comparisons on their site but for some reason they don't lay the size and weight comparison out in a chart, so I made my own.

Manduka mat size and weight comparison (from Manduka's website)

Black mat pro 7 lb, 71 x 26 x 1/4"
Prolite 4 lb, 71 x 24 x 3/16"
Eko 7 lb, 71 x 26 x 3/16"
Ekolite 3.5 lb, 68 x 24 x 1/8"

Shock horror, I may even visit a Shala while I'm over there. Any suggestions, I'm going to be based around Venice Beach?

UPDATE: Bought a Prana Eco mat.

That's it on the left sitting on top of my Manduka, yes, it is a bit thinner. And yes, it's yellow, or rather Lemon. I'd hunted around and found the orange and brown one in the UK and found it at Detoxyourworld. After it hadn't arrived I chased them up and they told me they had been trying to get hold of me because Prana had stopped making the Orange one and they hadn't updated their website. Passed over that like a good Yogi and asked them if they could get any mat to me by Friday. They sent the Sage and Lemon one 24 hour delivery.

Well it is light, very light actually and it's relatively firm for such a light mat. It's no Manduka but it's comfortable enough on the knees and spine, did feel the floor on my headstand but that was the only posture. Actually it's very comfortable, had a nice Savasana.

The sage looks OK but lemon? Each side has a slightly different texture, the lemon side has the best grip so I'm stuck with lemon. IT felt like I was practicing at the beach, in fact it feels a bit like a beach mat. It's good but compared to the Manduka feels a bit like one of those toy ovens or vacuum cleaners you can get for your kids.

Grip is OK, lasted through to the end of the Marichi's before it became a bit too slippery to jump through, in that sense it's better than the Manduka, it drys as quick as I do too.

On reflection I should have held out for the Manduka Prolite. However, I couldn't justify the expense for a second mat that I would only use a couple of times a year (it's twice as much as the Prana in the UK).

It'll do, it folds up and fits in the suitcase and yet when you take it out rolls back flat. I hear they can start to flake after a couple of months, that's OK as long as it lasts me the course.

Developing a home practice Parts 1-30

I received an email this from A. this week asking me how I started and I guess developed my home practice. I was going to direct her to the link to these Developing a home practice posts but it tends to link to the most recent first. This then is an attempt to put it all in the correct order. Bit awkward doing this so let me know if I've screwed up any of the links.

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8 Part 9 Part 10 Part 11a Part 11b Part 12 Part 13 Part 14 Part 15a Part 15b Part 16 Part 17 Part 18 Part 19 Part 20 Part 21a Part 21b Part 22 Part 23 Part 24 Part 25 Part 26a Part 26b Part 27 Parts 28, 29 and 30 Part 32

The last of these is from September 09 so need to do a few more to bring my things up to date.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Latest dropback plus checklist

I focused on backbends quite a bit in March, especially dropbacks. Since then I've pretty much let them tick over on their own, still trying to engage the principles but not getting carried away them.

Susan's post here made me want to have another look at how they're coming along. She too is working on getting her hips forward and trying to make her legs as straight as possible.

I like how she mentions the bandhas too, add those to the pilot check list.

Stand tall, check
Lift out of the hips, check
Elongate spine, check
Nutate pelvis upwards, check
Nutate pelvis downwards, check
Imaging string pulling coccyx up, check
Sway back and forth aimlessly a little, check
Spread sit bones, check
Check feet are straight, check...ish
Push hips as far forward as possible, check
Lift out of pelvis more, check
Press down on big toe, check
Hands to chest, check
Engage mula bandha, check
Stretch and bend back from lower back, check
Stretch and bend back from mid back, check
Stretch and bend back from upper back as if in reverse prayer, check
Push hips forward some more, check
Press down some more on big toe, check
Press down with heels to counter lift, check
Remember to breath.....oops check
Back a bit, more toe, back a bit, more toe, more heel, more toe, more heel, check check check check...
Hands to forehead, check
Hands further over head, check, hang, check
Let arms hang down, check,
Hips forward, bugger
bandha, damn
Remember to let out the last of the breath as you drop to the mat, check

This is just my own ever growing checklist or as much of it as I can remember as I stand here trying to recreate it, little bits I've picked up here and there that have become all mixed together. Perhaps the day will come when I just do it and don't tick through any of this. I only go through the full list the first couple of times, after that I'm trying to focus on one of two elements, the grounding of the heels perhaps or saying in my head over and over "hips forward, hips forward".

I tried to throw the bandhas into the mix this morning, had the image of engaging them being a little like throwing the anchor overboard.

If I look at the Susan's picture, on her post, I can see she's still getting her hips further forward. If you draw an outline around her it's more circular, mine is like an egg, still quite a steep curve from the knee to the ribs.

My feet always look turned out in pictures, admittedly they are when I come up but I always check there's a straight line running from my heel through my big toe (See head on pic, right), they do creep a out a little but just try and catch it happening in the video.

Perhaps I should turn my feet inwards a little have the outside of my foot parallel with the mat. I tried it this morning and still dropped back well enough. I'm thinking if I have my feet turned in a little it might give me a more stable base to push my hips further forward, my knees beyond my toes, pasasana like. I have a feeling that I'm pushing my hips forward kind of between my feet rather than over them.

Hmmm, want to try that now but I've just eaten half a grapefruit, slice of toast and a weetabix with a pile of banana and strawberries on it, oh and a huge cappuccino, bad idea.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Jazz and Ashtanga Vinyasa Krama; more form, more freedom.

Nice practice this morning, wonder how many blog posts start with that. Just googled 'Blogger nice practice this morning' and it comes up with 12000 results.

I've been working on the Asymmetric sequence all week, sandwiched between Ashtanga Standing and finishing. Friday's I usually do a straight Primary no matter what else I'm up to, this morning I decided to have even more fun.

I play Saxophone, though less now than I used to. Those who don't know jazz often think of it as formless, an improvised sax solo say, as just noise. But when you learn to play jazz, you learn scales, loads and loads of scales, sometimes, strange exotic scales as well as the more obscure classical one (the other way to learn jazz is to listen to hundreds of recordings). You also learn patterns or licks and if you listen to the famous players you will often hear the same little patterns of notes come up time and time again. Guitar players call those riffs.

So pick a song, a melody, learn the chord structure it's related scales. Now strip the melody down to the bare bones such that the fewest number of notes that still give you a hint of the melody and play little patterns of notes from the same scales, the same chords. Elongate the space between the melody notes and chuck in a couple of quick patterns but come back to hit the melody note on time, go all Mingus and play with the time signature, try it by humming a familiar tune, My favourite things perhaps. Now forget the melody and just play the same chords or forget the chords and play over the appropriate modal scale but keep the same rhythm, or change the rhythm but keep the chords, the scales. It can sound a little Dionysian but there's still Apollonian form there, still structure and order.

Listen to Coltrane below pushing the boundaries, it's almost like he's trying to step outside language to express what cannot be said, he fails of course, as we all must 'but he tried goddammit he tried' .

'The Tao that can be said is not the Tao' , Wittgenstein should have been ashamed of himself for writing, 'That which can not be said should be passed over in silence', where would poets be if they listen to Ludwig. If you can say it that ain't it.... but for god sake don't stop trying.

What has this got to do with this mornings practice, well not as much as I wish, clearly I've gotten all excited about jazz and gone off on a tangent. What I wanted to do was substitute Subroutines for patterns, Sequences for styles and explore improvisation in practice.

Style = Ashtanga Vinyasa Krama
Chord Structure = Standing/Bow/Seated/Asymm/Seated/Finishing
Patterns = On one leg subroutines, Salambhasana Subroutines, Kapo subroutine, Dropbacks, part of Janu Sirsasana subroutine, some Marichi's, LBH patterns, Seated angle subroutine, Arm balance riff, inversion sequences.

So I had the basic idea, the form of what I wanted to practice along with some favourite patterns but after that I let it take care of itself, let the connections work themselves out and went with instinct for what felt right, for what my body seemed to want. Changed the tempo, lot of jump backs through the Asymm section but less through Seated. The magical thing is, the more familiar you become with all the different subroutine and sequences from Vinyasa Krama, with how asanas are linked to one another the more freedom you have, it's this the same paradox you have in jazz.

The more form the more freedom.

Clearly this post makes very little sense but it's a hell of an excuse to play some Coltrane. Here he is saying that which cannot be said.... almost.

and here's a nice link to an article on Coltrane and indian music.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Yoga and Bronchial Asthma

from Srivasta Ramaswami's May 2010 newsletter

In an earlier letter I referred to the use of Neti, Nadishodhana.
Kapalabhati, etc., for keeping the upper respiratory tract in good
condition and being able to deal with many upper respiratory ailments
like sinusitis, rhinitis, chronic sneezing, etc. Neti uses water or a
twine to cleanse the upper respiratory tract and Nadishodhana in a way
is neti using air as the cleansing medium. The lower respiratory tract
has its own idiosyncrasies. The air warmed and moistened in the upper
respiratory tract enters the trachea and flows through the bronchial
tubes to the lungs. The bronchial tubes are a sensitive pair and tend
to contract and dilate during the breathing cycle . Some yogis who
have one foot in yoga and the other in modern medicine have suggested
that the Kurma nadi mentioned in the yoga texts refers to the
bronchial section of the respiratory system—nadis are after all tubes.
This sensitive nadi causes problems in certain people. The bronchial
tubes tend to dilate and contract respectively during inhalation and
exhalation in normal people at normal times. But in certain people
they tend to contract during expiration but do not dilate sufficiently
or remain contracted even during inhalation restricting the free
passage of air. Because of the narrowing of this section of the
airway, we hear the unique whistling sound as we find among
asthmatics. These constrictions in certain advanced cases can be
continuous but with many asthmatics it is intermittent.

The cause of this is usually attributed to allergens. Some allergens,
like pollen, dust, peanuts, cat's hair or the spouse's dandruff,
produce a reaction in the respiratory center due to which the impulses
coming from the Vagus nerve which control the bronchial tubes tend to
produce bronchial spasm. While in most people this does not happen,
this overreaction takes place in asthmatics. The conventional approach
to deal with this problem is two fold. One is to find out those foods
and pollutants which produce this condition and develop vairagya
towards them. Avoidance, a yogic trait is recommended. .”Keep away
from the offending allergens” is the dictum. Another related approach
is to find out the various substances that one is allergic to and then
inject small doses of the allergens into the system. Hopefully over a
period of time the patient will develop some immunity to these
substances which she or he did not have. Related to this is to use
temporary medication to mainly dilate the bronchial tubes. Such
medications are available with allopathic doctors, ayurvedic vaidyas
and also as home remedies. My grandmother used to make a concoction of
several herbs (I do not remember the English names of them), turmeric,
black pepper, basil, cinnamon and a piece of dry date (to make it
palatable). So avoidance, developing artificial immunity and temporary
palliatives are the cures available for the millions of those who
suffer from the debilitating condition called bronchial asthma.

But the Yogis go one step deeper and say it is a functional disorder.
Even though allergens are the precipitating cause the root cause is
said to be sudden abnormal activity in the broncho-motor of the vagus
nucleus of the medulla. The external protein, the offending allergen,
excites reflectively in an asthmatic when the vagus motor nucleus is
irritable and unstable and produces the spasm of the bronchial tubes.
The lower tone of the sympathetic also contributes to this condition.
It is the malfunctioning of the respiratory center. In yogic parlance
it is the disturbance (prana prakopa) of the pranamaya kosa.

So rather than dealing with this problem empirically the yogic
procedures directly attempt to deal with and try to correct the
abnormality. One of them is a unique procedure called Ujjayi
breathing. In this the vocal cords are approximated using the deep
throat and vocal chord muscles and the subject breathes through the
constriction produced, creating a unique sound, the Ujjayi hissing
sound. Normally we do not use these muscles in this particular way.
While yogis are familiar with this breathing for many others it is
unfamiliar. But since we keep the vocal cords together for a
considerable amount of time, breathing in and out, we tend to gain
control over these muscles. Since the bronchial tubes are also
controlled by the same vagus nerve, one would gain control over the
muscles activating the bronchial tubes. In fact the effect is optimal
if one does the Ujjayi correctly by using proper jalandhara bandha. In
this the chin is brought way down and placed against the breast bone
and the whole rib cage pulled up by straightening the spine, giving a
very powerful bandha. In such a lock, one is able to breathe,
controlling the breathing way down in the respiratory tract, very
close to the bronchial tubes, the kurma nadi. A few days of attentive
practice of this unusual procedure will bring very good control over
the lower respiratory tract musculature. Ujjayi breathing will appear
very unusual for non yogis. Further the prolonged, deliberate
constriction of this area will also stimulate the sympathetic to send
impulses to open the bronchial tubes and tone of the sympathetic also
will be improved. A better tone of the sympathetic will help dilate
the bronchial tubes during normal breathing. Without getting much into
technicalities it may be said that this reprogramming done for a
sufficiently long time will help the asthmatic have improved breathing
and less severe and less frequent attacks, and in some cases complete
normalcy. With proper care of food, reduced stress levels and other
yoga friendly life style changes and regular practice one could,
hopefully, be free of the debilitating asthmatic attacks. Ujjayi
closely resembles asthmatic breathing. Another concomitant problem is
the dry chronic cough. For this Bhastrika, which simulates a cough,
should be practiced .

The other exercises that may be beneficial are, as you can guess, the
inversions, especially head stand. Once the patient is reasonably
healthy and strong the head stand or its variants with or without help
or props may be attempted. Headstand as it has been mentioned in
earlier articles, helps to direct the CSF into the ventricle in the
brain to stimulate the pituitary the secretions which help produce
adrenalin, a hormone which used to be given in the olden days for
asthmatics. Further it nourishes the spinal nerves which will help the
proper functioning of the autonomic nervous system thereby giving a
healthy control over the bronchial tubes. A short stay in Sarvangasana
also is helpful as it gives a natural jalandhaarabandha and the
quality of Ujjayi breathing is also good. Assisted
sarvangasanaViparitakarani) can also be attempted

It is also a good practice to work on the accessory muscles to
breathing. In an asthmatic the chest muscles tend to be rigid and
breathing shallow. Arm exercises and thoracic exercises are very
helpful to free the tightness of the chest. Please refer to the hasta
vinyasas and the Parsva bhangi vinyasas in the Tadasana sequence in my
book “The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga”. Many of these exercises can
be done even sitting, and some even lying down depending on the
condition of the patient. Singing (perhaps in the bathroom), full
throated chanting (prabalam adhiyita)and reading aloud (with or
without an audience) are also helpful.

Yoga can be very useful for asthmatics as an adjunct therapy, one may
continue with medical treatment one is undergoing like allopathic,
ayurvedic or any other. Normally it will be a good idea to start
treating an asthmatic during the season when the atmospheric
pollutants are the least troublesome and asthmatic attacks minimal.
One may start with the accessory muscle exercises and then teach
Kapalabhati, then Bhastrika and Ujjayi breathing with Kumbhaka withing
one's capacity. Some kind of assisted inversion can be attempted
after the participant feels more comfortable. Over a period of time
with regular practice almost everyone shows improvement. The
frequency and severity of the attacks come down.

When I started teaching way back in the mid seventies, with the
blessings of my guru, I taught yoga to a bunch of asthmatics in a
nearby hospital. The patients varied from about 8 years to about 60
years. I met each one individually once a week for about 8 weeks,
teaching them slowly and progressively. I did not keep any records but
later when I met the doctor he looked quite pleased. He mentioned that
many had shown improvements over a year and it was possible to reduce
and in one or two cases suspend medication. Their vital capacity
showed significant improvement. One important aspect of yoga therapy
is that the patient gets fully involved in it. When you give medicines
alone, the patient is a passive helpless participant. In yoga chikitsa
the patient is fully involved and when she/he sees improvement there
is a psychological boost-- a feeling of achievement is there which
will help them practice regularly and take care of themselves. They
are slowly able to overcome the despair and helplessness associated
with these attacks and start becoming more positive. They start
feeling equal to the challenge.

When anyone asks me if yoga cikitsa works for bronchial asthma, I say
yes. Because I was an asthmatic as a teenager. Since I started
studying with my Guru I have been—touch wood-- free of attacks, for 50
years now. Children from families who have asthmatic members may
benefit immensely from relevant yoga practice if they could start
appropriate yoga early in life.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010


Six weeks until the Vinyasa Krama course and I'm shifting into countdown mode. I want to run through a sequence a week so they're fresh in my mind again. The more familiar I am with the broad brush strokes of this practice the more I should be able to pick up on some of the finer points while on the course.

I worked out I can still keep an Ashtanga framework. I've been adding the seated Sequence to Primary and the Bow Sequence to Intermediate. Now I plan to take that a little further and do a straight Primary with most of Lotus sequence, Intermediate with Inverted and either Primary or Intermediate with the Supine sequence.

Asymmetric Sequence was the tricky one as It's a long sequence. I did it this morning, Standard Ashtanga Standing then straight into the Sequence, but rather than doing all one side then the other I alternated legs after each subroutine. I threw in a jump back and jump through at the change of legs and of routines, not as many as in Primary but still ten or twelve. I'm making all the jump throughs straight legged, still clumsy but getting the hang of it. The uncrossed jump back might not arms are too short. I did the usual Ashtanga finishing and a ten minute headstand. That came out at around 90 minutes. For now familiarity with sequence is important so I only stayed three long breaths in most of the poses, saving five to ten for the key asanas.

After practice I did twenty minutes each Pranayama and Meditation. Becoming quite settled in my pranyama now and want to try and work up to 80 breaths at least once before I start the course, that's about fifty minutes. Unlikely to make a habit of that, half an hour seems plenty but on special occasions perhaps.

Oh and I'm working on the chanted Sun salutation again, one of those every morning.

What else, more work on chanting (while cycling to work with my ipod) and looking again at the Yoga sutras. Started back up with Leggett's Sankara on the yoga Sutra's, had put it down to look at Sankara's commentary on the Brahama Sutras and again at the Sankara/Heidegger book but need to get it finished.

When I was first studying Heidegger at Uni I came across reference to Sankara and the Yoga Sutra's. Seem to remember spending half a day in the library with the Legget book and wishing I had time to read it properly. Heidegger and Sankara seemed to have a lot in common. Struggling to get a grip on Heidegger's use of being I wondered if Sankara might be a way to approach that question from a completely different direction. Now twenty years later I'm still studying Heidegger but now I'm practicing yoga and Leggett's book has turned up again and I still think it might be useful. Funny how the wheel turns.

Fasting today, decided to do a one day fast a week and three days once a month, just exploring.

So give me a break and lay of posting pictures of food on FB

Monday, 3 May 2010

I saw my toes! Towards Viparita salabhasana & Ganda Bherundasana

When I do my Ashtanga 2ND series I include all of the Vinyasa Krama Bow sequence. It's pretty much the same as the first part of Intermediate anyway just a few more salabhasana variations etc. It includes Viparita salabhasana & Ganda Bherundasana. It's a little different than how they're done in 3rd series, in VK the hands are clasped. I tried both clasped and unclasped and found clasped easier, a little more control.

I saw my toes!, how cool is that, there you are wrapped up in trying to deepen your bend, thinking about moving your feet closer to your head and all of a sudden your pinkies come into view, "well hello", quite disorientating first time it happens. Almost burst out laughing. Thing about it is, you never know how close your feet are to your head. Sometimes I've thought they were close then checked the video and found they were still miles away. When you see your toes it's like wow, that close, OK now if I can just see a little more of them and then bring them towards my nose they should end up closer to the top of my head. Still a way to go of course, but it's coming.

It all felt very relaxed this time, quite comfortable and I was happy with the exit, more control, almost floaty, if i could just get that in my clunky Karanda exit....

M thinks that the Vipparita Salmbhasana in the screenshot above looks more like the Japanese Shachihoko (tiger head/ carp body), found atop castles, than a locust.

After these your into Dhanurasana and then I pick up 2nd series as usual. Managed to land on my heels using the hands locked begin head method, not getting in as deep as as the walk your hands in to your heels pushing up all the time approach but I like this new approach.

Oh and talking about seeing toes I managed to see and touch my heels (even hold onto them with my fingertips) in Urdhava Dhanurasana walking in. Feet could perhaps be a little, just a smidgin, straighter, I mean you hardly notice but if you look carefully you might notice they're a little SPLAYED.

So backbends went well yesterday and of course I slept like a baby, a real baby IE. waking up every hour.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Kino MacGregor's podcast, The Power of the Breath

Everybody knows about Kino's podcasts on Youtube right? She must have around thirty posted now that cover workshops on meditation, bandhas, breath, as well as Q&A sessions, led classes etc. you can download them directly to your iPhone from the itunes app already on your phone or you can access them here.

I can't recommend them enough, insightful, inspiring and at times funny, really funny. She's down to earth and seems prepared to try and answer any question directly and honestly.

Some surprises too.

I was listening to her podcast on the breath from Jan 2010 and she came out with this

'Guruji recommended 10 second inhalations and exhalations on every breath, allowing for that natural pause in between'.


Reminded me of the time I heard this on Richard Freemans's DVD

So I tried it, 10 second inhalation and exhalation on every breath and in every posture. You just know that by the time I reached Utthita Eka Padasana I was pretty much counting in nano seconds. It's hard, really hard. So I gave up on that before the end of standing and sat down with the Sweeney book after practice and counted the number of inhalations and exhalations in Primary. I worked it out that at that rate your practice would take three and a half hours. this is assuming you can manage a 10 second inhalation through twists like Marichiyasana D.

I listened to the Podcast again and to put it into context Kino is talking about how we tend to speed up during practice, especially in the difficult postures, Navasana, Marichiyasana D. She talks about how as you become more experienced it's possible to revisit, Primary, and aim at much longer inhalations and exhalations, total breath control, the 10 second inhalation and exhalation that Guruji suggested and in every posture.

Let me make that clear, your not expected to do the 10 second inhalation and exhalation from the word go, it's something to aspire to, perhaps. Though 'doing rechaka and puraka fully as possible' IS recommended on almost every page of the asana section of yoga mala. Kino seems to want to encourage us to make sure our inhalation and exhalation is equal throughout the practice, and that we don't speed up. Though I didn't manage that full ten seconds I did make a point of breathing more slowly throughout, it felt good. She does say, later in the podcast, that you can work towards that long inhalation and exhalation in padmasana during finishing.

Is it just me or did the equalizing of the inhalation and exhalation become stressed only recently, perhaps I just started noticing it although I did look back through some of the older Ashtanga texts and nobody seems to mention it explicitly. It might be that I began to notice it recently because it appeared to be at odds with the Vinyasa Krama approach.

Ramaswami too, encourages long, steady inhalation and exhalation and even the equalizing of the breath in the Complete book of Vinyasa Yoga but recognizes that this is difficult in forward bending postures and twists. Rather than shorten the inhalation to match the exhalation they become unequal, a five second inhalation and ten second exhalation is suggested in, for example, paschimottanasana. In Pranayama this is called vishamavritti (unequal duration). (In my own Pranayama practice I use a ratio of 1:4:2:1 where the inhale is five seconds and the exhale ten). I'd got into the habit of employing that ration 1:2, pretty much throughout my practice. The Kino podcast made me look again and more closely at Ramaswami's books.

He does say that long inhalations are more difficult than long exhalation and recommends that we work on increasing the length of inhalation in Pranayama away from the more stressful asanas that would make that so challenging. He does say, however, that you can practice longer inhalation on the classic yoga meditation asanas, padmasana, vajrasana, mulabhandasana etc.

In my practice now, I'm with Kino in trying to make sure I don't speed up my practice and to equalize the breath in postures that don't involve deep forward bends twists or backbends. In those poses I take note of Ramaswami and employ vishamavritti. unequal breaths, longer exhalations in the forward bends and twists, longer inhalations in the backbends. That long exhalation in Paschi is so glorious that I don't want to sacrifice it just so my breath is equal.

As my practice is a Vinyasa Krama inspired Ashtanga (or is that the other way around) I include jump backs, jump throughs and pose set up's on the breath. What do you call all that stuff that goes on between the actual postures? Whatever you call it I'm trying to make sure the breath is even and slower, a conscious effort not to speed up there.

Do I lose rhythm by improvising the breath, I don't think so I'll leave you with Ornette Colman to make my argument for me.

BTW, the Sax Ornette is holding in the picture is the Grafton, same as the one of mine I just sold to get to la la land : (

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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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