Tag Archives: tadasana

Blakeney notes 2018

I’ve been fortunate enough to clear my busy schedule to attend a few classes with Laurie Blakeney who is in Hawai’i. Blakeney is now the IYNAUS assessment chair, and I have been attending her annual workshops for the past few years. What I appreciate about her teachings is she gives simple instructions which produce a maximum amount of effects.

Case in point, on the first day we worked on the concept of keeping both panels of the chest even. The reason why I chose the I-Beam graphic  is because that is the image that she branded in my head when we went through a few simple poses. The lower part of the I-beam I imaged were my hips. The middle the spine. And the top part my shoulder blades.

Right of the bat she taught Bharadvajasana, a typically asymmetrical hip pose and had us study the evenness in the torso even though there is an obvious distortion. The point seemed to be not to get the even torso, but to create an intense awareness of how easily it  gets distorted.

Wrist 5

It seemed like we did Bharadvajasana for 20 minutes. She said that it is best to lose track of which side you are on when doing twists, and just call it “20 minutes of twists.” As I have written before about Bharadvaja, a figure in the Mahabharata, his claim to fame was his ability to meditate and his scholarship. Very fitting title for this pose.

I like how Laurie will teaches about an hour of sitting poses before standing poses. By the time you get to them, you already feel the awareness of the points she is trying to make. She also taught wrists and the scooping in of the upper back. But for this lesson the “I-beam” hit home

In Utthita Hasta Padasana, the pose before Utthita Trikonasana, my hips were uneven and I found it very challenging to even them (probably based on bad habit). And in Parsvottasasna my hips were even more uneven.

utthita parsva hastasana

She gave a wonderful instruction in Parsovattanasana while our hand were on blocks: pull your hips back while extending forward with the chest. As she said this, I kept that I-beam image in my mind an felt great extension of the spine. By pulling the hips back, a lot of other things pulled back too that she did not have to mention. Mainly, the side panels of the chest stayed even like Tadasana.

More to come…

 

 

Advertisements

Demystifying the instructions of “roll your thighs in” and “roll your arms out”

You are new to Iyengar yoga, you get to class, and the teacher says “roll your arms out.” A typical response would be “my arms don’t roll anywhere because they are attached to my torso.” At least that is what I thought when I first heard the nebulous instruction. After years of classes, it finally hit me what the instructor meant. Hopefully this post will save you a few years.

First of all, think of a cross section of your humerus bone in the upper arm or your femur bone in the thigh as the axle of a wheel. The direction to “roll in” means that the flesh and muscle move from the outward to the inward. The direction “roll out” means the flesh and muscle move from the inward to the outward.

wheel direction

 

A clearer illustration is that of an old time towel wringer that you find at do-it-yourself car washes.

towel wringer

Think of your thighs as the two cylinders of this contraption. When the “thighs roll in” the towel moves backwards. When the “thighs roll out” the towel moves forward.

To now practically illustrate this point. Use a block between the thighs for Tadasana. tada pez

 

To “roll the thighs in” the block will eject backwards. To”roll the thighs out” the block will move forward. It is not recommended to roll the thighs out in Tadasana as it will put strain on your back.

What happens to the rest of the body when the thighs roll in during Tadasana? These are the types of questions you should ask yourself during home practice to build knowledge. The first thing that happens is that your sacrum spreads and the tailbone moves forward. When the sacrum spreads and the tailbone moves forward the chest lifts. When the chest lifts the arms roll out (from inner to outer). When the arms roll out the chest spreads. When the chest spreads the trapezium softens away from the neck. When the trapezium softens away from the neck the head floats on the spine and there is no pressure in your shoulders.

So like a game of Mousetrap, each movement effects the next movement and the next ad nauseam.

mousetrap

 

In the Iyengar system, these movements go from the gross to the subtle and from the physical to the  consciousness. So next time you practice on your own, ask yourself which movement effects what other part of your body, and then trace that movement until you have exhausted all the options. You will find it is never ending.

Chasing rainbows…the never ending quest to attain perfection in asana

Image

Winter is Hawai’i’s rainy season, and there are rainbows to be seen daily during one’s commute. While my wife was driving over the Pali Highway, I was lucky enough to see this low flying rainbow and snap a photo. This rainbow would disappear and reappear around every bend. It was a delicate play of light and speed to be able to capture this rainbow on film, ultimately for a fleeting moment before we hit the tunnels leading to the Windward side.

This dance with the rainbow reminds me much of my daily yoga practice. I have certain postures that elude me. I have glimpses of the posture, but the reality of how my body is today and the vast chasm in between. Patanjali says in Sutra 11.47:  Prayanta saithilya ananta samapattibhyam or “Perfection in asana is achieved when the effort to perform it becomes effortless and the infinite being within is reached.”

I reflect on this sutra often.  If I am struggling too much to attain an asana, perhaps it is not my time to go there yet and I need to work on more fundamental actions “lower” in the clan until I can perform them without effort. Although this may not be in the time that I want, this assures that I will not get injured, that I can continue practicing yoga into my old age, and it keeps my ego in check. Practicing yoga is not about the physical postures, it is about the full conquest of one’s ego. The asanas just happen to provide a valuable tool in doing so.

Perhaps one of my most frustrating times as a teacher was when I was preparing for the Intro I assessment. The syllabus of poses appeared “too easy” for my “advanced practice.” The poses included Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose), Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose), and 30 other “basic” asanas with the target being Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported All Body Pose or Shoulder Stand). I had to work on these poses for two years. I would see others in different yoga teacher trainings do arm balances, drop backs, and other “advanced” asanas. Meanwhile I was “stuck” with these asanas I had learned 10 years prior when I started yoga.

Then a magical thing happened. I came to the realization that these were not “basic” asanas at all, but were very complex once I peeled the thin veneer of the “shape” of the pose back. When you apply the correct actions to any pose, it becomes more difficult by an order of ten. I often refer to one of Kofi Busia’s two hour class where he taught 2 postures: Tadasana and Dandasana.

T and D

He held each pose of one hour. That experience takes one beyond what the asana is and introduces one to the other other aspects of yoga: namely Dharana (concentration), and Dhyana (meditation). Asana means “meditative seat” and as the name implies, it is a vehicle for meditation.

I am reading about people who are injuring themselves preparing for yoga competitions. I have much compassion for these people as they feel a need to show off their asanas in front of others to gain approval and “win” something. What exactly does one “win” when achieving Vrischikasana at the expense of dislocating a rib?

Vrschik

We all want to have “perfect postures” to instragram to the universe. We all want to attain the most difficult poses in the shortest amount of time. Does it do us any good? There will undoubtably be someone who does it better and with less effort.

alice

This is Alice. This is what I aspire to be as a yoga practitioner. Alice is well into her 80’s. She has difficulty seeing with her glaucoma and cannot do inversions because of that condition. She needs a wall to support herself in Utthita Trikonasana. Alice has a daily yoga practice, and has had one for many years. This woman is unstoppable. She does not give a rip about what she looks like in her postures. The only thing she cares about is doing the proper actions so she does not injure herself. To me, she embodies what true yoga is all about.

Like the Rainbow on the Pali Highway, our asanas will shine and disappear just as quickly. Injury, old age, life events, will all get in the way of our yoga practice. But what we don’t realize is that these life events “are” the yoga practice. Sometimes asanas just get in the way.

Climbing the mountain of Tadasana

ImageTadasana, or mountain pose, is the foundation of all the standing asanas. However, most do not give this pose it’s proper reverence and treat it like a transition to asanas that are “more fun.” There was once a class taught by Kofi Busia where he taught two poses in a two hour class: Tadasana and Dandasana (staff pose). We literally stood for one hour while he hammered us with instructions and did the same sitting in dadasana for an hour. The next day I could barely move.

Image

Like the Himalayas, Tadasana should be firm and unwavering. The base of the “mountain” is your feet. In architecture, the arch is one of the strongest structures. Your feet have three of them. That is why such a small structure can bear so much weight. To begin the pose, place the feet together.

Image

From here, press the big toe mounds down to tighten the quadriceps and press the top of the knee straight back. This will place the knee firmly into the socket. Here is what legs look like without engaging the toe mounds and quadriceps:

Image

 and with the knees engaged

Image

 Notice the gap closes between the thighs.

The next tendency I’ve noticed in my own practice is I tend to lean forward taking the weight into the front part of the foot. To illustrate, I’ve placed a belt over my shoulder to act as a plumb line.

Image

 You can see here my weight is forward as the strap is over the foot. To correct, I push back from my top thighs to bring the hip over the ankle:

Image

 Now you can see from the plumb line that my hip is on the same plane as the ankle.

The thighs “roll in.” Some may have a hard time with this term. To illustrate, I put a block between the thighs and “roll the thighs in” until the block goes out the back like a Pez coming out of a dispenser:

Image

 The next exercise is to address the back body. As we cannot see our back body with our eyes, we are largely unaware of what we are doing. By using a corner edge of a wall, can quickly tell where am over arching in the back and where I am not working enough:

Image

 The exercise here is to flatten as much of your spine on the corner as possible:

Image

 You can’t forget the arms in this pose. they are straight by extending the triceps muscle until the elbow recedes into the arm much like the knee recedes into the leg. The top arms roll out to open the chest and the back of the arms are even with the spine. Fingers are straight and thumb is slightly crimped:

Image

Image

 Tada! …sana