Saturday, 15 June 2013

Day 3 Guest post: Workshop Report - Gregor Maehle's Workshop - Nauli Kriya and Led class

Continued from Day 2 (Asana and Yoga meditation)


Guest post by Chiara Ghiron
www.theyogicat.com

DAY 3 (final) day -  Nauli Kriya and Led class


At the beginning of the Mysore class Gregor reminded everybody that it is the breath that has to guide us throughout the practice.
He also reminded us of the Heyam Dukham Anagatam sutra (future pain must be avoided, YS II.16). If pain becomes a samskara, we will subconsciously look for it again and again. We must therefore be very careful not to introduce it in any endeavour.
I liked this reminder, which is also one of the guiding principles in TKV Desikachar's teachings.


Gregor spent some time explaining how activating the Agni fire is important for a healthy life and how it can help to fight diseases like viral and bacterial infections, although he was very careful to point out that cancer cannot be avoided through these practices because it is the karmic load that we carry with us that tends to cause it.
He also specified that a Yogi body is strong when Agni is active and can sustain periods of eating poorly or very little and also eating poison (like junk food) if necessary. He said we should of course aim to have a proper diet based mostly on vegetables, but if we have a properly activated Agni we will be able to digest everything with ease.
I liked this note because so many people are obsessed with 'proper' food (including me sometimes..) and he brought us all down to earth I think.

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Nauli kriya

Before the led vinyasa count class Gregor spent a hour or so to show in detail how Nauli is done properly and broke it into progressive phases. He checked that no one had had breakfast, and stressed that Nauli is contraindicated with pregnancy, menstruation, deep vein thrombosis (if there is a clog and moves about you never know where it will end). On the other hand Nauli can help managing a prolapsed uterus and menstrual pain if these are related to a prolapsed uterus.
He said that if we spend 5 minutes every morning doing Kapalabhati and 5 doing Nauli, they would be the best-spent 10 minutes of practice. But of course we need to do all the rest as well!

- in phase I we exhale completely with legs slightly bent and hands on the thighs and then perform a fake inhalation. That is, close your throat completely and then open the chest completely. This action will suck the diaphragm in. It needs to be performed to your capacity, differently from a kumbhaka during pranayama, where you set a defined time. Also, important technical detail, this is Bahya Uddiyana, it is different from Uddiyana Bandha, where we actively contract the lower abdomen muscles bringing them to the spine

- in phase II we perform Agnisara, that is during the fake exhalation we keep the upper part of the throat contracted and chest expanded, and repeatedly release-recatch the belly to create an up-and-down wavy motion. The speed has to be increased gradually, as with Kapalabhati control is the most important thing, rather than performing this practices fast and poorly

- in phase III we keep the external retention and push strongly with our hands on our bent thighs to isolate out the rectus abdominis, which creates a vertical muscular bulge

- in phase IV we remove the pressure from the left leg to isolate the right part of the rectus abdominis, then we do the same on the left side by bringing pressure on the right thigh again and isolate the left part of the rectus abdominis

-in phase V we perform phases III-IV-III-IV in succession on the two sides to create a counterclockwise turning movement and then invert the sequence to create a clockwise one

We should gradually upgrade to 3 1/2 turns in each sense, but really gradually.

Initially we should do just three rounds of Agnisara for about 20 waves, and then up to 50 is apparently achievable.
Then 3 Bahya Uddiyana, three right side Nauli and three on the left side, and finally go for the full cycle.

I found the Agnisara practice difficult, for some reason Nauli is OK, I was doing it right all these years! but I found this initial preparatory phase hard.

***

Led Class

In the led class Gregor just counted and observed, making very few comments along the way.
He let us rest for a 10-minute long Shavasana (contrary to what he had said previously... we must have looked knackered!) with a nice chant.

For the whole practice I kept my usual long quiet Ujjayi in the asanas and only managed three breaths in each of them.
It was really funny to hear all the breathing noise the other people were making, sometimes it felt like it was a bit over the top, done because 'you are supposed to do it' rather than really necessary.... also funny how it changed in tone and volume during the practice.
At the end of the class everybody was soaking with sweat and I was dry, although I guess Gregor is right in saying that we need some cardiovascular exercise as well.

As usual I skipped the vinyasa between sides in the seated postures, and the Chakrasanas because whenever I do them I invariably hurt my neck.
Either I was so absorbed into myself and did not see it happening, or we skipped Garbha Pindasana.
I tried to apply all the hints he gave in the led class, although I was a bit confused about the internal-external rotations in the Janusirshasana variations, need to work on those more.

I tried to lead each pose with the heart and this hint really helped in all the asanas. Also, as a metaphor for how to approach life gave me cause to ponder for the whole practice.
I must admit I never felt so light in Adho Mukha Svanasana.

I had forgotten how much I struggle in Parivrtta Parshvakonasana so instead of pushing it I just stayed up on my hands working on the femur rotation and observed myself. Same story of course for the Marichyasanas C and D but never mind.

Another asana that I usually hate is Sarvangasana. For some energetic reasons I tend to feel very oppressed and cannot wait to get out of it.
But this time I kept my neck short and I was comfortable for almost all the 25 breaths. There you go...

Urdhva Dhanurasana was really enjoyable; perhaps my heart chakra is opening after all....

***

At the beginning of the Mysore class Gregor reminded everybody that it is the breath that has to guide us throughout the practice.
I got a lot of help in a number of asanas. I am not going to list them all otherwise it will be another ten pages or so, I wrote down here the ones, which were more closely related to the advice given in the led class and not just to my usual problems. Gregor was not only adjusting but also stopping briefly to answer questions related to the adjustments, which I found very good.

In Adho Mukha Svanasana he actually made me shorten my stance to bring the heels strongly on the floor and typically (I always get this adjustment) pushed me more towards the sky. While breathing, I realised that my hip imbalance is not going to get any better without a reference point, so I guess I will stick to this slightly shorter stance.

Gregor also helped me in the understanding this Janusirshasana internal rotation. Yes, it works much better this way, I had been externally rotating but it now seems absurd. I was pushing the knee away but with the incorrect femur rotation all along. There you go..

In the second part of Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana he pushed my upper leg hip further forward, he said it is important to feel the stretch in the internal thigh muscle, that's where we want to work.

Got a lot of help with Baddha Konasana, and it was super useful. I tend not to open my feet like a book enough, not that I cannot do it but I sort of thought I was cheating that way, turns out I should really go for it!!
But for sure I was not sucking the heels towards the spine enough. I was concerned about my sit bones lifting when he pushed me down, but he said it does not matter too much for the moment, I need to work on the internal rotation more.

Chiara Ghiron
www.theyogicat.com
---------------

I'll be adding these three posts to my Ashtanga Workshop Review page that lives at the top of the blog


9 comments:

  1. Cancer is caused by karmic load? This is not only stupid, but borderline offensive. If he believes this he presumably also believes that disabled people are born disabled because of karma?

    I have no problem in believing that yoga has physical and mental health benefits, as I've experienced them. However, this kind of mumbo-jumbo is what yoga doesn't need.

    My parents both died of lung cancer. Cause? Smoking. Simple.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Anonymous, I am sorry about your loss. Sorry I could not reply earlier but I was away from a proper computer.

      I do not think anybody knows yet what exactly prompts erroneously programmed cells to sit in niches in our body and start to grow into tumours rather than being destroyed. There are people eating charred steaks three times a day who do not get cancer, and others who lead a perfectly healthy lifestyle and do.
      I think evidence is mounting for example that epigenetic changes can transmit phenotypic traits to progeny (somebody even claims that Lamarck was right after all...) so there must be something that still escapes our understanding.

      I do not think that this idea of karmic load should make us live with a feeling of guilt or hopelessness as to the possibility to change our destiny, but if it can prompt us to have more awareness of the way we live, then perhaps is not a completely wrong idea and perhaps that was the whole point of Gregor's statement. I like to take it that way since it is a rather strong statement, I agree on that.

      Essentially I think Gregor was trying to pass the idea that Yoga is not a panacea for every disease, which is correct.

      Delete
  2. Anon my Father, Grandfather and Grandmother also died of cancer but I didn't find this 'karmic load' idea offensive, no doubt because I haven't bought into the Karma model anyway (although find it interesting). Is it because there seems to be the suggestion that somebody somehow deserved to get cancer or disability because of their pass misdeeds (karma). I've always found this to be a mis reading of the karmic model but then I'm no expert on it. I hesitate to comment because I know this can be a very sensitive issue. Sorry you found this offensive and painful to encounter on a Saturday morning.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Dear Chiara, many thanks for posting these reports, I wanted to go to Gregor's workshops in London this year but couldn't really afford it.

    I was wondering about the shavasana thing - in Gregor's primary series book he recommends lying down after practice to enable the body to balance itself out (reducing levels of stress hormones etc). But from your reports he seems to be recommending against it - was this more in the context of doing pranayama straight after asana practice? I know if I lie down straight after the last asana in the series I'm disinclined to do pranayama after, e.g. the body has cooled down and its time for a shower!

    The other question I have for you is, did he say anything about the final uplifting pose after padmasana? After doing that pose I usually need a minute or so for my heart rate to return to normal which can't be conducive to pranayama.

    Thanks again!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Rob

      you need to thank Grimmly for these reports really, hadn't it been for him I would probably not have written all this stuff down...
      Yes there seem to be a couple of discrepancies between the books and the workshop, I have noticed too.

      In the workshop essentially he was saying that savasana should be a short rest, only if really needed, as lying down for too long will unbalance our nadis again.
      I do not think this was just in the context of pranayama. In fact I asked him whether he intended for kapalabhati to be skipped after asana practice, but he said it is a good idea to include it before pranayama to revitalise ourselves, otherwise after the practice we coudl be a bit too tired for a long pranayama.

      As for the final uplifting asana (tolasana?), I do not recall any specific comments. I agree with you that it is a really weird addition to the practice after all that calming down towards the end of the series.
      I think Anthony has done some research and discussed whether it could be a recent introduction in some of his older posts... I think it must be, it does not seem to make much sense to me at least.

      Thank you for reading my posts!

      Delete
    2. Yes, Manju supposedly argues Somewherew that the finishing postures put you in the perfect state for pranayama, meditation , chanting but then utpluthi/tolasana gets thrown in at the end and spoils it. Will try and find the source, can't remember if it was in one of his interviews or a workshop report.

      Ramaswami has short savasanas during and at the end of the asana and before pranayama and before meditation, he also includes kapalabhati just before pranayama. i did notice that Gregor included Ramaswami's books in his references section.

      Delete
  4. Grimmly,

    No problem - not painful so much as profoundly annoying. I think yoga teachers who have a lot to offer, like Gregor, shoot themselves in the foot when they start spouting obvious nonsense like this. I have no problem with the previous part - I think yoga can keep us healthy, though I do balk at some claims people make about never getting ill (I have fewer colds now than I did pre-yoga but I do still get them as does everyone I know, yogi or not).

    The point about my parents was to illustrate that cancer has biological causes - whether genetic, viral or because of lifestyle choices like smoking, diet, etc. It has precisely nothing to do with karma, however defined.

    Like you, I don't buy karma. The idea for me is bound up with the caste system and a kind of depressing fatalism that weighs heavily on the Indian subcontinent. The Golden Rule (do unto others) works a lot better, in being free from the 'accept your lot' baggage of Hinduism.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Like anon my hackles rose on reading "Cancer cannot be avoided through these practices because it is the karmic load that we carry with us that tends to cause it."

    As I understand it cancer is a fault in the reproduction in cells which causes them either to be non-functional, or to reproduce in an uncontrolled and invasive manner. This appears to require three things:

    1: Some sort of trigger, which might be environmental/lifestyle/viral etc.
    2: A genetic propensity which might I suppose be considered 'karmic' if that is your model. It is certainly something you are born with and over which you have no control.
    3: Chance. It appears that the pathogen or trigger has to be present at exactly the right moment and exacly the right way during the process of cell division for the first cancerous cells to be created. Like the roll of a die you might get a six the first time, or it might not happen once in 100 rolls.

    If Gregor was suggesting that having a robust and well-serviced digestive system enables you to cope with the odd dodgy hamburger, but that even the healthiest individuals cannot make themselves immune to cancer then I would agree.

    If he was suggesting that there is nothing you can do to alter the chances of getting cancer then, like anon, I strongly protest. Reduce the frequency of the trigger and clearly you reduce the chance of the cancer starting.

    I do believe that there is value in understanding how ancient models of understanding came to grips with the observed truths of life. There may even be some issues where those models can help us where current scientific understanding does not. It comes down to how you present and interpret that understanding. On that score I'm with anon again: no mumbo-jumbo thank you Gregor.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Good Reply, Mike. Cancer is a random event where you accumulate genetic mutations over time in response to various triggers: genetic, environmental, dietary, etc. The lottery is whether the genetic mutations occur in the right cells at the right time and cause a cell to become cancerous. The change of cancer occurring increases as we get older because we have accumulated more of these genetic mutations.

    I agree that the concept of karma is a (short) slippery slope back to the caste system and your lot in life. If we take the Hindu concept of karma literally, if you don't fulfill your lot in life, then you will come back to earth in your next life as a lesser being (this can be as a lower caste, or as a lower non-human animal).

    That being said, a lot of modern religious philosophy do not interpret religious concepts literally and instead seek to glean more universal insights and teachings. So Gregor's comments can be interpreted in either way.

    The onus on teachers then is to be crystal-clear when making pronouncements or judgements on how students live their lives, to avoid this sort of confusion, especially with something as serious and pervasive as cancer.

    ReplyDelete

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A Reminder

from Kalama sutra, translation from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi This blog included.

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

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