Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Exploring Pranayama

This is just a post about my own evolving Pranayama practice, for a more detailed treatment try here.

Last time I posted on Pranayama (excellent just worked out how to do the link thing on blogger) it was Viloma Ujaii, the alternating nostril/throat technique and Kapala bhati, the panting fire breath thing.

This time it's Kumbhaka (retention) Pranayama. I think this is my favourite, the alternating nostrils techniques become confusing (although I still do it for five rounds or so), I find it hard to keep the count and for an extended period my arm gets tired (ahh bless). This is a much simpler but arguably more intense version.

You breathe in and retain the breath, you breathe out and hold the exhale then repeat. That's pretty much it.

It becomes interesting when you start slowing the whole thing down, long, slow steady inhaling and exhaling. I started off with a count of 5:5:7:5 inhale,retain,exhale,retain and now it seems to have settled on 10:7:10:10. I can't seem to even up the inhale, after breathing out so slowly and then retaining the breath, the first part of the inhale is a little fast. Supposedly the retention after the exhale should be a little less than after the exhale, tried it and it evened up my inhale. now its 10:10:8:10

It gets very interesting when you bring in the bandhas and this is why it's my favourite. I've been focusing on Intermediate lately and it just doesn't feel as grounded as Primary, less seated poses I suppose, which I find are the most comfortable for engaging the bandhas. It used to bug me but now I know I'll be doing this at the end of the practice, so I'm much happier.

This is how I approach/experience the bandhas. Towards the end of the exhale (2/3) I let myself become aware of the slight lifting sensation of moola bandha I begin to focus on it and intensify it, drawing it up. As it gets as 'raised as it's going to get uddiyana bandha has begun to become slightly activated, my lower abdomen drawing back towards my spine and up.

This next bit is an added extra . At the end of the exhale I draw my abdomen all the way up creating a cave beneath my ribs and then draw in at the sides as if I were about to perform Nauli Kriya (which I do last few breaths on the video). I tend to hold it for a count of five and then slowly relax it in readiness for the inhale.

It's much harder doing the whole nauli thing when your seated, as opposed to standing and bent over with your hands on your knees. After a few breathes it starts to become a little easier though.

At the moment I'm spending about 15 minutes on pranayama, a couple of minutes on kapala bhati, about five rounds of Viloma Ujaii and the rest of the time on this.

Anyway that's how I'm approaching it at the moment, obviously you wouldn't do this after eating or drinking anything.

Why do it? I love the focus and concentration involved in this. You get much more in touch with the whole bandha thing enabling you to employ them more effectively in the asanas, seems to have been a great help for karandavasana and of course the jump back and jump through, Bakasana B is another that comes to mind. I also find it very calming and use it throughout the day, though without the full uddiyana and with a lighter ratio.

When I do it at work I just sit up straighter with my legs wider as if I'm trying to ground my perineum more and then off I go, though with a much quieter Ujaii to avoid attention.

It's still very much work in progress but as I've said before I'd rather drop a couple of asanas from the series if I'm rushed (though not from finishing) than cut back on the Pranayama. Meditation I might cut back to five minutes followed by the Pranayama chant, then do a proper seated meditation and chanting when I get home but I'm finding I want to do more Pranayama rather than less.

Tried to catch the sound of my breathing but mostly caught the sound of the plumbing (no that's not my stomach rumbling ).

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Long headstands

Before anyone jumps straight to the video I should point out that it's the yogic equivalent of watching paint dry, nothing happens, no really, NOTHING happens. The only source of mild amusement and possible interest is scrolling the play bar back and forth to watch the clock in the corner move and perhaps the uddiyana bandha. What with my dodgy knee it's a slow news day here.

I did a ten to fifteen minute Sirsasana on Sunday and it felt pretty comfortable. I liked how I was approaching the count, 25 breaths up 25 back down, so thought I might see about staying up longer today, 30 minuets, perhaps even an hour.

Annoyingly the video stopped recording before anything interesting happened, seems my camera only records for fifteen minutes before cutting out. Going by the count I figure I was up about twenty to twenty-five minutes when I noticed my toes and feet were going numb. I tried flexing them, rotating my ankles, some side and backward/foreword splits to get some circulation going. I'd done the inverted VK routine a few times in the past and been up in headstand for about forty minutes or so, but while your up there you doing all kinds of asanas so perhaps that's why I didn't experience any numbness then.

I decided to call it quits and see if anyone here can shed any light on this. Now I've heard that you can build up to two hours headstands and I'm sure somebody commented here once that they'd done an hour with the Darby's. So what's the story, is this something that passes? Any suggestions? I was doing some intensive breathing while I was up there, deep breathing, engaging the bandhas, is that a good thing or a bad thing, should I keep the breathing soft and light? What do you think?

Now I don't necessarily want to stay in headstand for two hours or so, but I like the idea of a comfortable 40 minute inverted meditation.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Playing with Vinyasa Krama arm positions as prep for Dropback and Kapotasana

Played with back bends this morning. A kind of back bend focused Vinyasa Krama practice. Taking a break from primary and intermediate for a couple of days until my knee clears up (see last couple of posts).

So practice this morning consisted of a couple of long Sury's, three breaths in each stage then a 25 breath Uttanasana. Part of the Vinyasa Krama Tadasana routine followed, including the back stretching and different behind the back arm positions. I've mentioned these before. I like how they seem to open up/stretch different areas of the back and especially how reverse prayer brings back the shoulders. They give nice support as you bend back into them too, allowing you to stay back longer and work on the quality of your breathing. From them I went into a couple of dropbacks and then filmed part of the routine.

Then it was a 25 breaths Paschimottanasana, part of the VK Bow routine including Salabhasana which led up into Kapo through its 2nd series prep, again employing the VK reverse arm positions to see what effect it had. It was OK didn't reach my heels though. Wish I'd remembered to try the taking turns with an arm outstretched routine I used in the dropback on the first half of the video, next time.

After than I did a quick shoulder stand prep and a 25 breath Savangasana followed by a ten minute Sirasana. I used my meditation timer, turns out that counting up to 25 long slow breaths (nice bandha engagement when upside down) and then back down again is about fifteen minutes. Count up and down again and that's a half hour headstand.

I finished with a 25 breath Maha Mudra right side only (so as not to bend my left knee) ten minutes Pranayama, twenty minutes meditation and about another ten minutes chanting.

Really enjoyed it, nice practice, came out at about an hour and a half.

Forgot how much I enjoy the freedom to explore that Vinyasa Krama invites. Think I'll keep one day a week for exploring the sequences and subroutines some more.

The video below explores/plays with the Vinyasa Krama reverse arm positions as prep for dropping back and for Kapo.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Knee's still playing up.

As I mentioned before in the last post it's just a throw over from an old knee injury. It tends to play up a little in colder weather. Plus I was walking a lot on it the other day. I felt it playing up but didn't take any notice of it and carried on walking all over London., my own fault for not listening to what it was telling me.

This morning I did a very light Vinyasa Krama type practice, focusing around a couple of Key asanas (Uttanasana, Paschimottanasana, Sarvangasana and Sirasana plus the odd prep pose). I then did Maha mudra on the right side and then Pranayama, Meditation and a little Chanting (PCM). I did the PCM with my right leg in half lotus and the other outstretched, seemed to work OK

Thinking a Vinyasa Krama practice again tomorrow, perhaps the bow Subroutine and lead on into Shalabhasana, and Kapo including it's prep. Then some serious Urdhva Dhanurasana dropback work, haven't done enough of that lately. Want to turn the knee issue into a positive and make the most of the time I can't practice Ashtanga proper. Of course I could do Primary or Intermediate avoiding knee affecting asanas but I tried that earlier in the week and it just fell unsatisfactory, and irritating.

Feel quite upbeat about it actually. If this had happened last year I think I would have felt pretty down about it, couldn't bear to miss a mornings practice, even begrudged the rest day and never took moon days. Since the Vinyasa Krama stint I'm much more relaxed about it all. I kind of feel I have a better understanding of what's important in my practice, the breath, those long exhales, my focus on the bandhas and the PCM. As long as I'm able to cover a few key asanas for 30 to 40 minutes it doesn't really matter.

I practice Ashtanga again because I enjoy the form, find it challenging still and because I can. I practice it with pretty much the same Vinyasa Krama focus which is in the spirit of Yoga Mala. I'm still fit and strong enough to do an intensive practice and while I still can and I enjoy it then I might as well. But it's what's inside that form that really seems to matter to me now.

I'm reminded of how Krishnamacharya told Ramasawami that if he was practicing for an hour then he should practice forty minutes of Asana and twenty minutes of PCM. Doesn't seem to matter which asana you practice so much (other than the key asanas mentioned above), but rather how you practice them. And besides, being away from Ashtnga proper for a couple of months doing VK didn't seem to impact detrimentally on my Ashtanga practice, it's all good.

Friday, 23 October 2009

A real pain in the....... knee

So way back in the mists of time I put my knee out in an Aikido accident and ended up with water on the knee. That would come and go, eventually leading to an operation to remove some non-cancerous tumors on the synovial membrane about twenty five years ago.

As the years have gone by the knee would often 'go out' and I'd end up with fluid on the knee again. One memorable time it happened shortly after arriving in Florida to visit a girlfriend. Not wanting to go straight back home, I spent the whole two weeks hobbling around on crutches with a bag of frozen pees strapped to my knee consuming copious amounts of Vodka to dull the pain, ahhh the folly of youth. I had to quit several jobs because of it and in Japan when practicing Iaido I had to skip the Seiza (kneeling Kata ) altogether and just practice standing butchery.

So one of the great joys for me of Ashtanga has been that despite all the pretzel poses I've never had any problems with my knee. There was a little stiffness, I seem to remember, last winter but nothing that hindered me in any way.

This week however, no doubt because of the cold weather it's really playing up again. It's not swollen and there's no fluid. I don't seem to have jarred it or twisted it in anyway, it's just started to hurt like hell. It's the left leg on the right side of the knee. It seems to have come on since Tuesday when I went to London and was walking around all day (ahh, just remembered that bit, so that's why).

It was hurting when I woke up Wednesday morning and yesterday also. I managed to get through Intermediate the last couple of days avoiding anything involving the knee too much, Supta V, left side of Bharadvajrasana etc. But today was Primary.

Primary is not the series to practice if you have a dodgy knee, just nowhere to hide. Thankfully I learnt Ashtanga with the Swenson book and had all those variations to full back on, but it was a depressing and unsatisfactory practice. (my Primary, my beloved Primary!).

I'd forgotten about the walking around on Tuesday until just now. I'd begun to think that I was doomed to agonising winters and limited practice every winter.

Anyway yesterday I bought something called cura-heat. It's a knee support bandage that has a little pocket you can put a heat pad in. The heat pads I know from Japan, wonderful idea, you just open the packet and the air activates the pad causing it to warm up. You put them in your pocked to warm your hands and some of them have a peel off sticky strip that you can stick to your clothes where you have muscle ache.

I put it on this morning before practice but it didn't seem to help and just became irritating. The bandage itself isn't bad, much lighter than the usual sports bandages. Come to think of it it seems to be good for apres practice. I'm wearing it now and my knee feels fine.

Anyone have any other ideas, rubbing with caster oil? Please don't tell me I need to go and have needles stuck in it.