“One of my goals in life is to do the slowest Primary Series anywhere… rather than the quickest”. Richard Freeman

NEWS:

New R. Saraswathi Resource page at the top of the blog to join those for Sharath R. Jois, Manju Jois, Pattabhi Jois, Krishnamacharya and Srivatsa Ramaswami.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Back on the mat

I had hoped to do Primary series this morning. I'd managed to practice Vinyasa Krama most of last week, up until the tooth abscess came up but had only managed one Primary and one Intermediate last Sunday and Monday.

First Sury Namaskara and I realized it was a bad idea, the tooth doesn't seem to like having my head down, blood pumps, tooth throbs (well obviously not the tooth) and while I could probably get used to the pain/uncomfortableness I suspected it wasn't good for the healing process.

Nice reminder from CK in comments to the last post that we can, of course, do japa (mantra meditation) in any position. So pranayama and japa then, a few postures to open up the hips though to see if I could comfortable settle in lotus.

I started with the tadasana sequence missing out the forward bends but adding some more balancing postures, paschimottanasana will have much the same effect as Uttansana without getting my head below my heart. When it came to paschi though I found my hamstrings very tight, shows how important those forward bends are as preparation for the long paschi's we do in VK. I shifted to a long stay in maha mudra, five minutes each side and then some half lotus forward bends and twists before giving paschi another try, this time it was fine and I stayed for five minutes. I'd decided to steer clear of headstands for a while but wanted to see how Shoulderstands felt, did the prep, went up and it seemed OK, kept it short so as not to push my luck.

And that was asana practice, about forty minutes in the end, slipped into padmasana and did twenty minutes or so of pranayama and another twenty of japa and jana meditation, oh and some chanting too. Perhaps On Tuesday (day off) in lieu of my big practice I'll chant the sutras, still have the recording from when we chanted them together on the course.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Out of action

OK, I give in , take the hint. It seems a break from practice is called for.
It's been one thing after another. First the inflamed coccyx problem making sitting postures uncomfortable and forcing me to drop my leg behind leg poses (also laying off the serious backbends). Then we had the slipping on the platform, slamming shin into side of train issue. Leg was pretty cut up and bruised, thus culling the 'On one leg' postures, binds and basically Ashtanga altogether as I didn't want to get it too sweaty.

Now It seems I have a tooth abscess which puts my beloved headstand and inversions on hold as well as the macrobiotic experiment ( can't chew).

I did manage to Sit last night though which was interesting. The drugs (Nurophen plus) only seem to take the edge off the pain but I found that if you employ the Vipassana trick of actually focusing on the pain you can get some peace, for a while at least.

Here's the trick. This kind of pain has a throbbing character and the actual pain seems to be on the beat of the throb. If you focus your attention on the off beat then there's a space between the pain. Keep your attention there on the 'spaces between the notes' and they start to string together, the non-pain seeming to dominate the actual pain. It's Jazz. I wonder if that's how they do it in the Vipassana for pain management books, be interesting to look into that, something in it perhaps.



Of course once you let your mind wander the pain comes back and it hurts like hell, kind of like the monk in the Zendo's who walks around with his baseball bat giving you a bop every time you start yo drop off.

I thought last night that it looked like a photoshopped 'before and after' makeup. The right side (looking at the picture) after I started practicing Yoga and the left how I looked three years ago before I took it up.

Before / After yoga





UPDATED : 45 minute headstand, macrobiotics and out of action

Kai asked me if I was building up my headstands, it seems perhaps I am. I usually do ten minutes in the mornings but Sunday I tried twenty, Tuesday was thirty and this morning I stayed up for forty-five. I guess I'll have to try an hour just to see........ not sure what exactly.

Forty-five was curious, feet went to sleep after about fifteen but were fine after some Vinyasa Krama headstand asana. Pranayama was nice but some time after thirty my nose started getting a little blocked and I moved on to Japa mantra, thought for a moment about staying up for the full hour but I was getting too distracted after forty minutes so decided to come down. Did my shoulderstand and finishing, felt fine but now I feel quite spacey, incredibly relaxed, be nice to go back to bed.


One reason for the long headstand this morning is I'm a little out of action. I went to London Tuesday for the Gauguin exhibition and ended up slipping on the wet platform and slamming my shin into the side of the train, may BR be happy, well, peaceful and..........safe.

I could probably do my Ashtanga practice but don't want to get too sweaty, give it a chance to dry out and heal up, besides the thought of binding makes me wince.






The Gauguin exhibition was marvelous of course although one of my favourites, Daydream (pictured) wasn't in the show. Quite wonderful to be able to get up so close to the paintings as only a few of them were behind glass. Surprising how little paint he used.






Other news, I've decided to explore macrobiotics for a couple of months. Not sure why really, think I'm just so uninterested in food these days need something a little extreme or at least 'other' to get me interested again. I bought a book, Mayumi's Kitchen and started her Ten Day detox yesterday. the picture at the top of the page was yesterday's breakfast. I'm currently munching toasted pumpkin seeds. Hmmmm, not sure about it so far, all the grains are making me feel a little heavy, we'll see.

Finally, another highlight of the London trip was a a visit to the Hive Honey shop in Clapham, they have a beehive in the shop that you can see into, think I remember going there as a child. could have stood there watching them for hours. You can taste the different honey as well as some traditionally made Mead.
video

Here's Eddie Izzard on keeping bees


UPDATE
Great, I start to explore Marobiotics but end up getting an abscess under a tooth, so no chewing for me for awhile. I guess that puts the whole experiment on hold, I mean I can't chew once let alone fifty to a hundred times. God knows when I'll get too see the Dentist too so i may end up sawing my head of with a wooden spatula just in time for Halloween.

PS. I hate Halloween! Since when did it become a big deal in the UK....OK, clearly Irritable, where did I put that spatula?

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

30 minute headstand inc. variations, pranayama and mantra japa


This too was interesting. Following on from yesterdays Primary with mantra I thought I'd explore chanting through the whole of this mornings Vinyasa Krama practice, again quite resonating, you'd think the mantra would overpower the breath somewhat but curiously it seems to make the breath more focused.

Come headstand I decided to try something a little different. I'd only done a twenty minute headstand before but this time I wanted to try thirty minute, the first ten doing some headstand variations before moving into ten minutes of pranyama with the pranayama mantra, inhaling to the first part holding for ten seconds through the middle section then exhaling to the final part, again for ten seconds, followed by five seconds bandhas. The final ten minutes I slipped into urdhva padmasana and did mantra japa just as if I was doing my usual meditation but the right way up.








Thirty minutes was fine, legs went to sleep through the final five minutes of urdhva padmasana which was a bit weird coming back down as I couldn't feel my toes touching the mat.












I don't seem to have a problem with long headstands. I think it comes from practicing near the wall, although I don't need it anymore it gives a degree of confidence that seems to allow you go straighter and thus even out the weight. On the TT course in LA I had to do my headstand away from the wall for the first time and ended up with more weight on my arms which made it hard work, struggled to hold it for five minutes let alone do variations.

Primary Mantra Japa : drishti for the mind

That was interesting, throughout Primary series tonight I (mentally) chanted my mantra, dividing it between the inhalation and exhalation. So, chanting the first part through the duration of the inhalation then chanting the second part in time with the exhalation.

Don't know what made me think to do it but it really focuses the mind, attaches it like a barnacle to the breath. Nice practice, how many times would I have chanted it I wonder 4-500 times (Just worked it out, close to 600 breathes in Primary)? Practice ended up taking around 90 minutes.

mantras that work well for this would include

Om namo narayanaya
(Inhalation) (exhalation)
Om hrim namassivaya

Looking forward to trying it on 2nd series

One amusing moment, actually not so amusing at the time. It's getting colder and I couldn't get a good sweat up, just that clammy sweat that's almost sticky. Only managed to get my arms half way through in garbha pindasana, managed to roll but when I came up for Kukkutasana I could only hold it for a breath before I toppled forward, arms were so stuck solid that I ended head first into the mat, just managed to get my forehead down, ouch. Now that's why you need a manduka.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Sunday

Sunday's lesson has pretty much become 'practicing together' now. Nice to lay the mats out side by side and move through Tadasana sequence listening to each others breath. I try to shorten mine a little but can hear hers becoming stronger, more regular. On some of the twists I steal a quick look at posture and smile at how much it's improving. Did I imagine it or did she just slip into Pasasana? Second side, yep, is feeling proud yogic? Probably not. Nothing to do with my teaching skills although the VK entry does seem to help, basically she's a natural. I remember struggling with Mari D years ago, trying to grab the strap only for her to pop down and go straight into the full wrist bind. She did the same thing a couple of months ago when I was becoming frustrated at trying to jump back with straight legs, thinking it impossible.

Three minutes in Paschimattanasana and Sarvangasana rather than five, then she was off to bed (having worked all night ) leaving me to finish my practice.
I ended up doing a twenty minute headstand this morning, first ten focusing on breath and bandhas, next five with some movements/variations and the last five doing my favourite pranayama with mantra, inhaling with the first part of the mantra, holding for the middle section then exhaling to the last part and going into bandhas.

After asana I laid down in Savasana and listened to Ramaswami's chanting for ten minutes, have missed that from the course, then half an hour pranayama, twenty minutes meditation, Japa and Jana, while trying not to think about my morning grapefruit

Delightful Sunday practice. Just popped out to get the paper (seems the clocks have gone forward - nope, wrong about that ) and now time to see about putting the kettle on as I think I hear movement upstairs.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Ashtanga Vinyasa Krama at Home in Japanese.....or Yiddish, Haitian Creole, Icelandic, Greek or......

























Click on the Google translate button in the top left corner and choose your language.

左上隅にあるボタンを翻訳して、言語を選択してGoogleでをクリックしてください。

דרוק אויף די גוגל איבערזעצן קנעפּל אין די שפּיץ לינקס ווינקל און קלייַבן דיין שפּראַך.

Klike sou Google la tradui bouton nan kwen gòch anwo a epi chwazi lang ou.

Smelltu á Google þýða hnappinn efst í vinstra horninu og velja tungumál.

Application can be found on the Google Translate page just copy the code, add it to a new Html gadget on Blogger

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Core Vinyasa Krama asana : 5 minute Shoulderstand





Ramaswami stresses the importance of including three postures daily in our Vinyasa Krama practice, all held for an extended period, Paschimattanasana (posterior forward bend), Sirsasana (headstand) and Sarvangasana (shoulderstand).










On the Vinyasa Krama TT course he would recommend spending five to ten minutes in Sarvangasana, the first three minutes or so with the legs relaxed. In the video you can see I use a timer to keep me honest. VK employs sarvangasana as both a preparatory pose for Sirsasana as well as it's counter. On Ramaswami's advice I save the shoulderstand variations for the one after the headstand.








Ramaswami recommends
  • Some Shoulderstand preparation
  • A five minute shoulderstand, the first three minutes of which are done with the legs relaxed.
  • A backbend counter posture, I tend to do Urdhava Danurasana
  • A ten minute headstand. I do the first five minutes focusing on breath and bandhas and then do five minutes of variations.
  • Another shoulderstand for five minutes and a counter posture. I tend to go into the ashtanga finishing postures after the second shoulderstand, plough etc. so my backbend counter is Uttana Padasana
I do this sequence every morning as part of my VK practice.

Nice post here from certified Ashtanga teacher David Garrigues recommending the use of a pad under the shoulders and Ramaswami's article on the benefits of inversions here.

Towards Viparita Dandasana UPDATED.... again

First attempt at the exit from Viparita Dandasana, FAIL
We have Viparita Dandasana in Vinyasa Krama, I'd tried the drop into it from headstand twice before today, still not comfortable with it but it's coming along. Boodiba posted on this a couple of days ago with the kick back up to headstand. I'd thought that was just an ashtanga exit but I checked and it's in VK too ( P168-169 of Ramaswami's complete book of Vinyasa Yoga) no excuse not to try it then.

It's hard , really really hard, won't say anything more about it, this should show you what I mean.

Boodie's comments on the video on Youtube advise against the one leg approach and just to work on the jumping. I think I'll drop into it from my morning headstand for a while and explore, see where I am a couple of weeks from now, besides I like leg raises and can slip in Eka pada Viparita Salabhasana.


Update: Tuesday 19th oct

Tried to take on board some of the suggestions in comments and give it another go today. This time though I wanted to break it down, try to get the motion forward to carry the legs up that Stu talks about. Kind of reminds me of coming up from urdhva danurasana, that getting the pelvis up and forward, sort of an upside down version of that.

I'm using the wall to push off and try and find the catch point to take it back up to headstand, trying to work further and further down the wall too. It's coming on, fear's gone, all starting to make more sense. I think next time I want to get parallel to the wall and have my feet right in the corner so I'm on the floor but also have the wall to push against to get the direction. yesterday I was think no way, today I'm thinking, yeah, maybe.




2ND UPDATE Wednesday 20th


I'd thought about starting another post on this for this mornings attempt but the tips from Boodie and Stu in the comment section are so good that I want to keep everything together.

Taken on board Boodies comments this morning that I should rely less on the wall and just work on the hopping, walking in as close as I can. The wall has been useful though, reminds you that it's a forward motion your after rather than just an upward motion. The lifting of the head that both Boodie and Stu are talking about seems to bare this out. I think I want to hop my hips just a little further over my shoulders, the lifting the head and pushing the chest forward seem to be about bringing the shoulders forward so there is less distance to hop. The screenshot above is of the best hop away from the wall so far, seems to be just a case of courage and timing now, think perhaps I'm still being a little over cautious and need to just go for it.



Watched the video Boodie posted again when I got in, I'm getting the forward motion when I push off the wall but as soon as I do it without the wall I start hopping up and down like a drunk shrimp which isn't going to get me anywhere. Tried to copy B's leg motion this evening and it was a little better, think it's just coordination and timing now. Going to lay off for a couple of days as I don't want to over do it then work on the pushing off the wall for a couple of days to try and get that fixed in muscle memory then come at this again Sunday.

UPDATE 21st Dec 2011
came back to this yesterday for a Vinyasa krama post and managed to get the hop back over, seemed to be all about the getting the chest forward and low, remembering where you were just as you dropped and then try to get back to that some point before hopping up.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Core vinyasa krama asana : Five minute Paschimatanasana

' Yoga texts recommend vaseth, which means one should stay in this posture for for a long time. Even a stay of five minutes has a tonic effect on the posterior muscles, the abdominal muscles and the pelvic organs, because of the rectal and abdominal locks'.
Srivatsa Ramaswami Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga p 75

I've struggled with Paschimatanasana, it's only in the last few months that I've begun to feel comfortable in the posture. Whether that's because of the five to ten minute stays in the pose that Ramaswami recommends or the the lifting out of the pelvis in the Tadasana sequence I'm not sure, but something has certainly changed for the better. I searched my files for any old pictures of early or even recent attempts at the posture but couldn't find anything. I eventually found an early video of a jump back, taken on my phone, which included the posture, this is from Oct 08 about 18 months into my Ashtanga practice.

video

And here's a full five minute Paschimatanasana from last week. This really is the yogic equivalent of watching paint dry, if you thought the ten minute headstand posted a couple of days ago was dull then prepare yourself. And yet there is stuff going on, this from Ramaswami's Complete book of Vinyasa Yoga

' You may stay in the vinyasa of paschimatanasana for a long time with short inhalations {three to five seconds), but very long exhalations (five to ten seconds). After you complete every exhalation you may do both the abdominal and rectal locks. During every inhalation relax your grip, but on every exhalation stretch forward and lower your trunk down slightly.' p75


I came across a nice tip from Dharma Mittra (I think it's on one of his videos) once your settled in Paschimmatanasana rather than trying to force your legs ever flatter, shuffle your sit bones back instead (:30 seconds in on the video above), I still tend to do this. Oh and CK mentioned recently in a comment, that engaging mula bandha helps protect the hamstrings, I'd never noticed but I think she's right.

In Vinyasa krama, we have of course several vinyasas of Paschimatanasana.



'According to my guru (Krishnamacharya)', writes Ramaswami, 'the main pose in this sequence, which is the posterior stretching pose (paschimatanasana) will not provide the intended benefits if it is attempted merely from a seated position without the movements facilitated by vinyasa krama'. p 71

The full Seated sequence, chapter three in Ramaswami's book, can be found here, many of the postures in this sequence also come up in Ashtnga Primary series, Paschimatanasana , of course, but also Kurmasana, Purvottanasana, Upavishta konasana, Navasana, Badha konasana and padmasana

Friday, 15 October 2010

First attempt to replicate the Mcafe Big Macro burger

I didn't eat much in LA, pretty much everything was closed on campus so I tended to live on Cinnamon Danish, a box of granola and trail mix cookies. However, there was one evening that I was taken along to a macrobiotic restaurant in Culver City (thanks barry, Chris, Wyatt ). Now when macrobiotic was suggested I wasn't that impressed, but hey, I was in la la land, when in Rome and all that and besides the place was right next to Trader Joe's. The restaurant was called Mcafedechaya and while there I had possibly the best burger I've ever eaten. ( perhaps with the exception of a slab-a-cow burger I had in Kansas back in my traveling days twenty-five years or so ago).

I don't really understand Macrobiotic, it seems to be based upon the metaphysical properties of the ingredients rather than any nutritional value. Typical, my beloved Heidegger overthrows metaphysics only for it to wind up in restaurants, kind of like Elvis. While trying to find out if Madonna still practices Ashtanga, last week, I found out she's macrobiotic, so I guess it's OK with ashtanga, by that I mean, enough fuel but also light enough. Need to find out more about it, I made a spelt recipe this week and it was marvelous, so, bit suspicious of it ( I know, aren't I always)but prepared to explore it a little more.

Back to the burger. At the cafe I didn't know what to order and wasn't really in the mood so just ordered their burger, not expecting much. It came out looking fantastic, beautiful bun, nice looking cheese, tomato, lettuce and pickles and the burger itself didn't look like cardboard. It tasted divine, nice bite to it, it was like a real burger, it WAS a real burger and definitely the best I'd had since becoming vegetarian if not ever. I only managed to go there once and since I've come back it's gained mythical status in my mind. I searched for recipes this week determined to try and replicate it. The video below is of my first attempt and here's the recipe I'm basing it on, this from the The Macrochef blog which you can find in my blog list.

I adapted the recipe a little, wanted to add some oatmeal but didn't have any so ground up some Alpen minus the raisins as well as some nuts from a bag of trail mix I use for salads, Oh and the cheese is Mozzarella, I think in the restaurant it might have been a soy cheese.


Please let me know if you've eaten the burger and or have any suggestions for attempt number two.

UPDATE : Hmmmm, not sure about this but I seem to be taking this macrobiotic thing more seriously than I expected, bought a book and everything. I've started a new blog Macrobiotic Ashtangi to chart what may well be a very brief flirtation.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Core Vinyasa Krama asana :10 minute headstand




Relating to the earlier post on Inversions, this is the ten minute headstand subroutine I tend to do most mornings.


Entering from lotus, I tend to avoid doing any variations for the first five minutes, just focus on the breath and bandhas. This is akin to watching paint dry so you might want to FFW. For second half, I tend to do half and full lotus Vinyasa Krama variations in preparation for the long sit for pranayama and meditation






Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Purna Matsyendrasana, after lunch on the Vinyasa Krama TT course

Still waiting for the Jois DVD to arrive from the states, put off my morning practice in the hope it would arrive today, it's now gone 1pm and I really should get on the mat and practice, stomach is rumbling.

While killing time, and I've killed (or wasted ) a lot of time this morning I hunted around my mail box for a video Rene sent me, from her phone, back in July. This is of a Purna Matsyendrasana I took a shot at in the Krishnamacharya class on the 2010 Vinyasa krama teacher training course.

What I find curious about this is that it was only the 2nd or 3rd time that I managed to get into it. The other times were on the mat, nicely warmed up in the middle of a practice and with an empty stomach. This one was taken straight after lunch and I seem to remember I'd been to an all you can eat Indian buffet. Still don't know how I managed it.

While writing this the postman just shoved something through the door saying there's a parcel waiting for me at the sorting office with £11.36 customs charges , pretty sure it must be for the DVD.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Looking at my morning Vinyasa Krama practice in more detail ( with bullet points )

As mentioned in yesterdays post, I seem to have settled down into a Vinyasa Krama in the morning and Ashtanga in the evening routine.

Ashtanga we know righ,t but perhaps a closer look at what I mean by a 'simple' and 'core' VK practice is called for.

There seem to be recommendations and suggestions (I'm taking recommendations as stronger here).

Following his teacher Krishnamacharya, Ramaswami recommends practicing daily
  • A long, five to ten minute Paschimotansana
  • A five minute Shoulderstand, the first three minutes of which are done with the legs relaxed.
  • A five to ten minute Headstand.
  • Another shoulderstand for five minutes and a counter posture.
  • Maha Mudra ( like janu sirsasna A without the forward bend )

also in a suitable posture for meditation
  • Kapalabhati 108
  • Pranayama
  • Meditation

He also suggests
  • A short Tadasana sequence
  • Some preparation postures preceding the first shoulderstand
  • Backbend counter poses following the shoulderstands
  • Baddha Konasana

I tend to throw in a chanted Sury namaskara as well as a short Asymmetric subroutine

Put both the recommendations and suggestions and my additions together and you have my Simple core Vinyasa krama practice


  • A short Tadasana sequence
  • A short Asymmetric routine
  • A long Paschimottanasana
  • Some preparation postures preceding the first shoulderstand
  • A five minute shoulderstand, the first three minutes of which are with the legs relaxed
  • Backbend counter posture
  • 10 Minute headstand
  • Another Shoulderstand
  • followed by another backbend counter pose
  • Maha Mudra
  • Baddha Konasana
In Padmasana
  • Kapalabhati 108
  • Pranayama ( nadi shodana )
  • Japa ( mantra) meditation

Vinyasa Krama is a naturally flexible approach

I tend to do a basic ten minute tadasana routine but there are several other options within the full On your feet 'tadasana' sequence. You may wish, as I did earlier in the week, to substitute in a few more twisting movements or squats.

I tend to rotate daily the Asymmetric subroutine, one day maha mudra, another, the marichi or half lotus subroutine. Find them all the options here.

I tend to stay in straight paschimottanasana and work on my breath and bandhas but there are some options while in the pose.

Backbend counterpose options are here

Following Ramaswami's advice I keep the first shoulderstand simple, relaxed legs for the first three minutes, just working on breath and bandhas but for the second Shoulderstand there are all kinds of options (the link includes the shoulderstand prep). I tend to do standard ashtanga finishing, halasana etc out of habit.

Headstands too have many options ( the headstand comes up at 3:45 )

I manage to keep the practice down to an hour, nothing feels rushed, overall it has a highly meditative feel to it. For me, my morning asana practice is preparation for extended pranayama and meditation but, of course, if that's not your bag, you can add in another half hour of Subroutines, some Triangle or On one leg subroutines perhaps to bring it up to a 90 minute practice in line with a standard Ashtanga practice.


from the practice diary

Latest approach to practice seems to be working out well, nice meditative VK practice in the morning, more dynamic Ashtanga practice in the evenings. I was afraid that the backbends from 2nd series might keep me awake but perhaps the practice is actually helping me sleep better. Might tweak things a little but the basic idea of VK in the mornings Ashtanga in the evenings may well be a keeper.

Sunday 3rd Oct.
AM
Simple Vinyasa Krama core asana practice (10 min. tadasana subroutine, a Sury (chanted), a rotating daily short asymmetric subroutine, 5 min. Paschimottanasana, Shoulderstand prep, 5 min shoulderstand, UD, 10 min headstand with variations, Shoulderstand/finishing, baddha Konasana, padmasana) leaving lots of time for pranayama and meditation).

Monday 4th
AM (6am)
As sunday core VK practice
PM (6PM)
Ashtanga 2nd series

Tuesday ( day off ) 5th
Ashtnaga 2nd plus extra 3rd series postures

Wednesday 6th
AM
As Sunday, Core VK practice
PM
Ashtanga 2nd series

Thursday 7th
AM
As Sunday, Core VK practice
PM
Ashtanga 2nd series

Friday 8th
AM
As Sunday, VK core practice
PM
Ashtanga primary

Saturday 9th
AM
Ashtanga 2nd

Sunday 10th
AM
As last Sunday, VK core practice
PM
Teach VK

Hopefully, the Jois Primary/Intermediate DVD circa 93 will arrive early next week, looking forward to being counted through the practice.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Inversions

Nice post from David Garrigues (Certified Ashtanga teacher) this week advocating the use of a 'pad' under the shoulders for shoulderstand. I found it interesting because I've noticed the difference between my shoulderstands in the morning and in the evenings over the last couple of days ( I'm practicing VK in the mornings, Ashtanga in the evening). I tried a blanket under my shoulder the other morning and my shoulderstand felt as comfortable as when I do it in the evening. David goes on to stress the importance of Shoulderstand and being able to remain in the posture for a considerable period.

This is something Ramaswami also stresses and he wrote an article in one of his newsletters that I've attached below, but first some videos.

In Vinyasa Krama we have many variations to explore while inverted, I remember Ramaswami telling a story about his teacher, Krishnamacharya. I think Krishnamacharya was in his 70's or 80's at the time, he mentioned to Ramaswami that there were 32 variations of headstand. Ramaswami, it seems looked skeptical enough for Krishnamacharya to get up and demonstrate them all (I'll try and hunt down the story. UPDATE: Madhu just added the actual story to the comments section, it was from Mohan not Ramaswami, my apologies to both).

Ramaswami recommends
  • Some Shoulderstand preparation
  • A five minute shoulderstand, the first three minutes of which are done with the legs relaxed.
  • A backbend counter posture, I tend to do Urdhava Danurasana
  • A ten minute headstand. I do the first five minutes focusing on breath and bandhas and then do five minutes of variations.
  • Another shoulderstand for five minutes and a counter posture. I tend to go into the ashtanga finishing postures after the second shoulderstand, plough etc. so my backbend counter is Uttana Padasana
I do this sequence every morning as part of my VK practice.

This video gives an idea of the shoulderstand prep, which you can simplify a little, and some of the Shoulderstand and Headstand variations available in Vinyasa Krama. Useful too perhaps if you have an injury and can't do your full Ashtanga practice for a while.


And here, as promised ramaswami's article on the benefits and importance of inversions from his Aug 2009 newsletter.

HEAD AND SHOULDERS ABOVE ……
The two important inversion poses, Sirasasana and its better half
Sarvangasana, called the King and Queen of yogasanas are a unique
contribution of Yoga towards physical culture and physical therapy.
Several contemporary yogis have disputed the place of these poses and
have claimed that they perhaps are later day inventions. But in
Hatayoga they are considered as viparita karani mudras.
Hatayogapradipika refers to inversions as follows
“ There is a wonderful karana or procedure which helps to starve the
sun,( here the gastric fire). One may learn it only from a Guru, and
not from the books. If the position of the sun(stomach) is above and
the moon(the head) below (i.e., upside down) it is called
viparitakarani(inversion). Learn it from a Guru “
The pelvic area—kandasthana-, according to some yogis is a breeding
ground for many ailments. It is also the area from where 72.000 nadis
are said to emanate and also Kundalini. This area should be kept
clean. The dross should be burnt and blown away, figuratively
speaking. How does the Yogi do it?
We have an air principle in that area which is Apana Vayu. We have
also the fire principle in us in the abdominal area in the form of
gastric fire or Jataraagni. This flame is flowing upwards and in the
normal upright position the gastric fire is above the pelvic area,
flowing upward, sometimes when overactive, produces a burning
sensation in the esophagus producing the typical ‘heart burn”. The
Yogi by resorting to the inversions, as Headstand and Sarvangasana, is
able to place the pelvic area above the gastric area. Now the gastric
fire or jataragni,-- figuratively speaking—flows towards the pelvic
area and heats and purifies the Nadias and the Kandasthan, arouses the
Kundalini with the heat. The fire is further supposed to be fanned and
intensified by directing the air tatwa or apana by Mula bandh; it
draws the apana closer to the fire principle and thereby the apana air
also becomes hotter and in turn melts away the dross of the
kandasthana and arouses the sleeping kundalini. So headstand and
shoulderstand, the mulabandha and the intense gastric fire help to
cleanse the nadis and the rogasthana or the disease prone area is
cleaned and spruced up.
There is another interesting concept associated with the inversions of
which I may have referred to in one of the earlier letters/articles.
It is said that our head contains a liquid called amrita which may be
translated as nectar. This nectar gives us life and drips drop by drop
through the uvula into the stomach where it is consumed by the gastric
fire to provide the life energy to live. This reservoir of nectar is
slowly used up and with its total depletion comes the end of one’s
life. The Yogi tries to ration the flow of the nectar, by remaining in
inverted position for a length of time every day—say between half an
hour to an hour or so. During the period of time the yogi is in head
stand and shoulder stand, the amrita remains stored in the head
without dripping down.
The Hatayogapradika has this to say
The Hatayogapradipika explains the inversion mudra as follows. “The
cool nectar that flows from the moon (here the head) is swallowed by
the hot sun (the gastric fire). Hence one’s body becomes aged. There
is a wonderful karana or procedure which helps to starve the sun,
(here the gastric fire). One may learn it only from a Guru, and not
from the books. If the position of the sun is above and the moon below
(i.e., upside down) it is called viparitakarani(inversion). Learn it
from a Guru. Do abhyaa of this inverted pose and increase the duration
every day. One who practices this for a yaama (3 hrs) daily will
conquer death”. When I was young I came across a Yogi who was said to
be practising sirsasana for three hours every day. His face had a
unique bluish tinge. He also practised Mouna or silence.
So by this daily practice, the Yogi is able to increase, so to say,
his/her lifespan by 5%, or say between 3 to 5 years. Normally after
Headstand the yogi is supposed to spend equal time in shoulder stand
as well. In shoulder stand, amrita while still confined to the skull/
brain portion, now is allowed to flow to the entire head portion above
the neck and nourish all the sensitive sense organs, the two eyes, the
two ears, the mouth and the nose (shanmukha). This is also considered
necessary to maintain the acuity of the sense organs
as they are way up in the body and may not get the full nourishment .
Sarvangasana therefore is considered good for the sense organs whereas
the headstand is good for the brain.
The normal upright position and the chin up position in which we keep
our head, both result in a wasteful free flow of the limited amrita in
the head down the uvula to the gastric fire, like a free flowing tap.
The Yogis found it necessary to constantly control the flow of this
nectar and even temporarily stop it. They developed a simple technique
called Jalandhara bandha to temporarily stop and control the flow. The
term Jalandhara-bandha itself indicates the effect it is said to
produce. Jala means water and here it refers to the amrita or nectar
which is said to be in the liquid form. Dhara is to hold, here holding
the amrita in the head itself and bandha is the lock, the procedure
which helps to achieve the holding operation. So Jalandharabandha
means the lock that enables holding the nectar in the head. Of course
while we do asanas and pranayama we adjust the bandha in such a way
that we allow only a small and necessary amount of amrita to flow and
also maintain a good ujjayi control over the breath. That is why the
default position of the head in asana practice whether it is tadasana
or the seated Padmasana or Vajrasana is the head down position. One
could see the pictures of my Guru doing asanas and one could see his
head down position in most of them—even in asanas like urdhvamukha
svanasana or the well known upward facing dog pose. In the entire
vinyasakrama one would find the relaxed default head down position is
resorted to control the flow of amrita and the ujjayi breath.
Some contemporary yogis may read these metaphorical narrations with a
wry smile. However these inversions should be considered as unique
contributions of Yoga, for health. Within the first few minutes of
Sirsasana practice, the leg and thigh muscles, the gluteal muscles,
relax. The chest, back, shoulders and neck muscles also relax as all
these are not required to maintain the postural tone as in the upright
position. It has been found that due to the relaxation of the leg
muscles, the blood pressure in the legs drop to about 30mm.There is no
great rush of blood to the head among the adept yogis due to auto
regulation; yet the gravity helps to open up many capillaries in the
brain, head and face which may otherwise remain partially closed.
People with high blood pressure and retinal problems will have to be
careful. However persons with mild hypertension and under control with
diet, life style change and even medication could benefit from this
posture if they had learnt it from early life. It appears to increase
pressure on the shoulders which would result in the brain trying to
reduce the blood pressure. Therefore if one would practice Sirshasana
regularly for a sufficient duration, one’s pulse rate tends to reduce,
thereby reducing the strain on the heart. Gradually there is a
reduction in the blood pressure.
What is equally important is that Sirsasana helps improve circulation
of the cerebro spinal fluid, which is helpful to the brain and also
for the spinal nerve bundles—the chakras. Because of the increased
pressure in the brain due to this fluid, the pituitary secretions
increase helping the better functioning of the sympathetic nervous
system which will help in many ways including the dilatation of the
bronchial tubes giving great relief to asthmatics. There is draining
of the bronchial tubes, giving some welcome relief for those with
chronic chest congestion. Many feel increased memory power and
general better brain capacity. There are cases of even some correction
of the eyesight. The vinyasas like the twists, Akunchanasana, the
backbends like Viparitadandasana in Sirsasana and Uttanamayurasana in
Sarvangasana help the spine considerably, by not only maintaining the
flexibility of this structure but also nourish the nadis and chakras
or nerve fibers and nerve bundles in the spinal chord.
In the inversions, as mentioned in earlier articles, the internal
organs get positional correction. Pregnant yoginis may find the
inversions help relieve pelvic congestion, oedema of the legs,
conditions that are prevalent during pregnancy. Practising the
inverted poses with the variety of vinyasas gives a complete massage
to all the muscles, organs and considerably increases the blood
circulation. Perhaps equally important is the effect of the twin poses
on the major joints-- the ankles, the knees, the hips and the spine.
The intra-articular space within the joints improves and hence the
joint movements when one does the various vinyasas also will improve.
Dorsal and plantar flexions performed in the ankle joints while in
these asanas help the ankles significantly. Asanas like Akunchanasana
in inversions give good relief to the knees, while inversions help
to open the hips by dragging the big pelvic girdle down a bit and
giving more space for the femur to move and rotate nicely within the
hip socket(pl refer to Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga for headstand and
shoulder stand vinyasas). Perhaps the most benefit accrues to the
entire spine. The inter-vertebral space is enhanced and person who
practises these inversions and the vinyasas like akunchanasana and
backbends will find the spine stretching nicely and becoming more
flexible. The narrowing of the inter-vertebral space can be tackled
positively and the low back pain reduces significantly. I would say
that the inversions are the best yoga postures to alleviate low back
pain. Overall these inversions and the vinyasas in them help to keep
the spine supple and strong. It is said one is as old as the condition
of the spine. Further, because of the relaxation of the lower
extremities Sarvangasana is a good pose to help overcome insomnia.
These twin poses are very good for health.
Contemporary Yogis find the other important inversion, viz., the
Handstand or Vipritvrukshasna very popular. This is a great pose, with
a number of variations possible. However since the head is not fixed
in this group of poses, some of the finer aspects of the other two
head- fixed inversions (sarvangasana and sirshasana) may be missing.
One finds it more difficult to maintain balance and also stay for a
sufficiently long time in viparitavrikshasana or inverted tree pose
(Hand Stand) and other similar poses like scorpion pose etc. These two
regal poses stand ‘head and shoulders’ above the rest in conferring
health benefits to the yogabhyasis.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

...talking of touchdown's, Hanumanasana, Oh and Madonna, does she, doesn't she?

Looked back over my files and I seem to have started exploring Hanumanasana almost exactly a year ago while, of course, bewailing that it was an impossible pose for someone like me (picture left from Sept 2009). Some suggestions came in to work at it daily, a few teachers seem to have students work at it after the Parasarita's. Seeing as I posted on Parasarita yesterday and have been taking that advice, working on it, if not everyday then a couple of times a week, here's a Hanuman update



Yesterday, I had my first Hanuman 'touchdown'. OK, bit of a cheat, I lean slightly to the side to get my buttock down, the other side, below, is probably a better reflection of where I honestly am, but close, it's getting close and more importantly, comfortable.







Hanumanasana, doable after all, who knew.











So Madonna, her 'Sticky and sweet' concert was on TV last night. Does Madonna still practice ashtanga? Does anyone know? I googled but it just talks about the 90's, wondered if she still does, I mean, she still has Ashtangi arms and her 'Black Beauty' Les Paul Custom is surely suggestive of a Manduka.

Just curious.







Latest approach to practice seems to be working out. Simple Vinyasa Krama core asana practice in the morning( tadasana, a Sury, a rotating daily short asym subroutine, long paschi, Shoulderstand prep, 5 min shoulderstand, UD, 10 min headstand with variations, Shoulderstand/finishing, baddha Konasana, padmasana) leaving lots of time for pranayama and meditation and then Ashtanga, in the evenings mainly Intermediate(Primary Fridays), feels like the best of both worlds.

UPDATED
Just got in from work and still no Jois Primary/Intermediate DVD, maybe tomorrow, was counting on it to motivate me into getting on the mat for 2nd. Oh well, deep breath......

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Prasarita Padottanasana C Touchdown

This seemed to come out of nowhere yesterday. I don't think I'm getting that much deeper into the posture, well perhaps a little given all the 'lifting out of the pelvis' Vinyasa Krama work, mainly it seemed that I was doing something different with my arms and shoulders.

Wish I could tell you what that was that brought it about but as so often with asana it seems to be a little shuffle here, slight rotation somewhere around there, a little bouncing in and out a bit on the edge, a smidgin more boldness perhaps......

What I 'think' happened is that I was perhaps a little deeper into the bend, feet felt nice and secure and balance felt good, stable. I used to think it was a case of getting my head down further, that getting my crown and then even the back of my head to the mat would help bring the shoulders further down. That didn't seem to bring my hands much closer though. I tended to focus on my hands, bouncing them towards the mat. This time I started thinking about the shoulders, bringing them down a little further, opening them up a little, almost drawing them apart to create a little more space. Also I didn't tilt my chin in right away but kept my head up a little to try and help bring the shoulders down. Once I was down as far as I felt could go I worked out from the shoulders playing around somewhat along the length of my arms. They felt closer to the mat, I bounced them in a little and felt the mat with my little finger. I came out, got the camera and tried the same thing again. This time I touched the mat three or four times and just about managed to rest part of my hand, fingers on the mat for a second or two.

Still a way to go of course to be able to rest my hands/arms comfortably on the mat but it looks like it's coming.

The fancy poses are nice, still enamoured by the shape of the Parsva Dandasana at the top of the blog behind the title, but it delights me when something improves a little in those old Standing and finishing postures that we've been doing everyday since we started. First time you get your head to the mat in the Parasaritas or grab toes in Badha padmasana and get your chin down in Yoga Mudra. Oh and your knees to the mat in Karna Pindasana or getting through Utthita hasta Padangusustasa sequence without bouncing back and forth all over your mat.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Developing a home Practice Pt 27 Sept 09- Sept 10

It's my day off and I'm putting off practice in the hope that the DVD I ordered a fortnight ago might turn up today. It's the one of Jois leading Primary and 2nd series Ashtanga, filmed in 1993.

Something else I've been putting off is updating my 'Developing a home practice' series. I had a look today as somebody had sent me an email asking how I went about teaching myself Ashtanga at home. I noticed that the last post in the series took things up to September 09, so a year out of date already. I've just spent the last twenty minutes looking through last years posts and am amused to find that I'm pretty much in the same place I was a year ago. Take this post that I titled What happened to Vinyasa Krama? from 6th Oct 2009, it begins

I actually do think I'm still practicing Vinyasa Krama. It's just that the asanas and sub-routines that I've chosen to practice every day are the same as in Ashtanga's Primary and Intermediate series. The daily VK practice routine I was honing was becoming more and more like Ashtanga anyway so why not go the whole nut roast.

See what I mean? I could have written that last week.

Actually I was going to post today on my latest practice approach, switching my Evening VK practice with my morning Ashtanga practice. The idea is to free up more time in the morning for pranyama and meditation. So, an hour in the morning of mostly core vinyasa krama asana (plus a couple of short rotating subroutines) followed by an hour of pranayama and meditation. Then in evening (as soon as I get in from work) Straight forward Ashtanga, Primary on Monday and Friday, Intermediate the rest of the week. So as you can see, still trying to balance the two practices, if I'm being kind to myself, or have my cake and eat it if I'm not.

But back to developing my home practice.

Part 26 ended with me in a Yurt having four days Vinyasa Krama Tuition, basically learning the sequences as they are in Ramaswami's book. I came away from that with a better idea of how the sequences went together, some suggestions of how to go about practicing them and the beginning's of a pranayama practice as well as less resistance to the very notion of chanting.

That was August 09, September I predictably became seduced, once again, by Ashtanga and Lino's full Vinyasa. It somehow opened up Ashtanga's 2nd series to me. I'd never really liked it ( I adored Primary series) but with full vinyasa I began to love the practice, everything seemed to make much more sense. By the time I dropped the full Vinyasa on account of time constraints, I was comfortable with Intermediate, my backbends and dropbacks had improved and I'd even started to look at 3rd series (Nov 09). My argument re Vinyasa Krama was that my ashtanga was a Vinyasa Krama approached Ashtanga with some variations, practiced slowly and with long exhalations.

3rd or Advanced A was a wake up call. As a guy, the beginning of 3rd series didn't appear so challenging. I was strong, arm balances weren't a problem for me and they just caused me to bulk up around the shoulders, something I'd been trying to avoid. It felt showy too and just seemed to feed that side of me that enjoyed the sense of play. I could see myself getting wrapped up in that potentiality of the practice rather than bringing out the more meditative side that I'd aimed at through introducing Vinyasa Krama. Recently, as it happens, I've been bringing a lot of the second half of 3rd into my VK practice and even been using the advanced arm balances for my short 'vigorous' pre pranayama/meditation practice, I've started to see too, that those arm balances can be very meditative taking a lot of focus and attention to do them well, but at the time it was a bit of a turn off.

In February I dropped 3rd and began to practice Vinyasa Krama again in the evenings (Ashtanga Primary and 2nd in the mornings). I began practicing pranayama more seriously and even found myself chanting mantras while cycling in to work. I started to think about attending Ramaswami's summer month long Vinyasa Krama TT course. I applied for it in March and spent the three months before it started preparing, working through all the sequences, learning the pranayama chant and worrying which mat to take. At the same time my ashtanga was improving, practicing both styles together seemed to compliment each other, leg behind head work was coming on, I grabbed my heels from the air in Kapo and was dropping back and coming up much more smoothly.

I chose my mat, managed to get through customs in LA and arrived late on the Sunday for course induction. Monday morning I got up at 5am practiced Primary in a stairwell and at at around 8am walked into my first ever led yoga class. Until that morning my 'public' practice had included two Sunday trips to Ashtanga Yoga London for mysore class and four private Vinyasa krama lessons in a Yurt. I was, I admit, a little apprehensive.

Still no post and DVD, time to practice.

Next: PT 28 Ramaswami's Five week Summer Vinyasa Krama Teacher training course in LA

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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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