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.

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.

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

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.

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.