Got introduced to a fantastic bandha workshop courtesy of Edward Clarke of Tripsichore Yoga.
Edward's take on bandha and lifting into arm balances/inversions/handstands is the opposite to how I've been taught, or possibly just how I'm getting the vinyasa breath count incorrect, I'm not sure. Anyway he lifts on an exhale, rather than an inhale. I haven't had chance to try it out for myself yet due to this weekend's illness, but it seems to make sense. Anyways, I thought I'd share some of his concepts, which are brilliant.
"Jack and Break" - In a squatting (utkatasana) position he "Jacks" up his sitting bones by straightening the legs and directly the "pointy bits" (sitting bones!) back and up. However, "Jacking" on its own can cause a crunching of the lower vertebrae, so the "Break" needs to be applied to counter this. The "Break" is uddiyana bandha (the fold at the hips) directing the energy back, keeping the abdominals long. Uddiyana for Edward appears to extend from the bottom of the rib cage down to the pubis. He literally pushed the top of the pubic bone downwards between his legs towards the "moola region", which is pointing upwards and backwards. Basically, the pubic bone travels towards the coccyx.
Somewhere between the sitting bones is where the moola is situated (the zero point of what is going on in the spine and the extension if energy, I guess the end point is the crown of the head). Edward says that you want to keep a straight line for the energy to travel from the moola region up through the crown of the head and maybe beyond. He says that if you have a kink in the line then the energy will not flow, i.e. if you crunch your lower back by overextending the lumbar region or if you overextend/crunch the neck when looking up. These actions will prevent the upward flying energy.
Whilst doing "Jack and Break" in utkatasana the knees are over the toes, so that weight is evenly distributed across the feet, and not leaning backwards. (He demonstrates in utkatasana because it's an easy pose to go from to get into arm balances.)
"J & B" for forward bends = if you take an uttanasana, you may find that the moola region drops down and uddiyana is squished/contracted and no longer lengthened. You are not going to benefit from this posture apart from a hamstring stretch. Edward takes his torso away from his thighs until he is working into a forward bend (uttanasana) of about 80 degrees (so his chest is almost parallel to the floor). Edward says you are not working the principles of uddiyana and moola, as J & B define them, if uddiyana is not lengthened and extended. (Edward goes on to say that he'll work there until he is 92 when he may feel a lot more stretched! I love this great tip for beginngers to back off the toes in a forward bend!)
"Drag" - Not a form of dressing up, oh no....
"Drag" is what happens to the feet on an exhale and what happens to the hands on an inhale. Take a forward bend, hands placed on the floor. You do "Jack and Break"and whilst exhaling your feet want to drag backwards behind you with the force of the exhale. On an inhale your shoulder blades press down the back bringing the arms back with them. This movement of the shoulder blades can either pull the torso forward or drag the hands back, depending on how much pressure is in the hands. For a handstand you want to inhale drawing the shoulder blades down tieback and the torso forward and exhale dragging the feet back to draw them off the floor.
"Scissoring and Splitzing" - this is how Edward describes the legs actions in postures such as revolved triangle and padmottanasana. Inhaling the legs have a tendency to move apart from each other and on the exhale you try and draw them together towards each other and the midline of the body. I guess this is a bit like the spiral dynamics theory I was taught a while ago, which helped in these postures to "square" the hips.
"Pubic bone to Coccyx" - Edward talks about this starting in a high arch on an inhale. On an exhale pulling the pubic bone to coccyx, resulting in a lengthening of the lower part of uddiyana. It should not be confused with overarching the back. Both pubic bone and coccyx are stretching down between the thighs (something you can only talk about in a yoga video ;) The lower back stays long and the uddiyana stays long.
"Piking" (up into scorpian/headstand/handstand etc) - usually happens on an exhale, a back bend and a forward bend happen at once. Keeping "Jack and Break" on to resists the temptation to sink into the lower back
Two common mistakes about uddiyana - 1st: pulling the navel back towards the spine; no you want it to pull it back and up, you will crunch the back and stick the ribcage and bottom out.
Jalandhara: Edward says that dropping the chin to the chest to lengthen the uddiyana not advocated and dropping the head back so the face is looking upwards is also not advocated. Edward advocates keeping the head on line with the spine. Do not shunt the head back so that it gives you a double chin but just so that the back of the neck is long and in line with the rest of the spine. You are essentially still gazing forward.
I love all this stuff and cannot wait until I'm better to have a go with it all in my practice :) (Exciting!!)
I've had a stinking cold for 3 days now, I haven't been able to practice as I haven't been able to breathe through my nose. I've been like one of the "mouth breathers" my yoga teacher Paul says you find walking round Poundland on a Saturday afternoon, no bandha on, with their mouth constantly open!!
I've been miserable as I haven't practiced since Thursday and that wasn't even a full practice. This morning I woke up and thought I'd shower to see if that would steam my nostrils open so I could get to Ben's self-practice class at Stone Monkey. But it didn't work, neither did the 4 Sudafed I took a little later on. I'm still blocked up and still miserable, my head thick and pounding. I need to respect my body more when it's not well and know when I really shouldn't be practicing. Luckily tomorrow's a moon day so not practicing tomorrow won't make me feel so bad...
I created a spreadsheet to track how much money I can save in the next year to go on my yoga travels. It's got all my expenditure on, including my yoga classes. 134 quid on yoga classes every 4 weeks! Crazy....it's more than I spend on food. One or two are going to have to give. More home practice. It should be easier now the warmer weather and lighter mornings are here. I'm waking up at 5 most mornings anyway, quite easily. I even meditated two mornings last week as soon as I woke up. It was luxury! Vipassana meditation is so much easier first thing in the morning. The only sounds around are the birds and my neighbour who gets up at 5:30am. It was easy to focus and really go within.
I'm starting a new class on Thursday so I hope that I am well by then. It's a beginner's intro to self-practice, half led instruction, half self practice and mini workshops. I hope it works, I have no clear plan as of yet. No structure as such, but will just start with surya namaskara A, seems most appropriate.
Literally just arrived back from THE most amazing workshop with David Swenson in Manchester.
I spent 2 weeks with David back in the Christmas/NY of 2008/2009 in Goa. At that time I had a fledgling practice. Actually it could hardly even be called a "practice", I'd been attending a part-ashtanga class for 7 months once a week in a gym. I loved the feeling I got from that hour and a half so much I just booked the 2 week retreat, not really knowing what I was letting myself in for. I hadn't eve done the full primary series and didn't know who David Swenson was. I loved the retreat (apart from being ill) but did not at that time take any notes and didn't realise what was going on most of the time and absolutely hated adjustments!!
So, despite spending 2 weeks with David, this was like the first time. I'm just going to try and put the notes down as I wrote them or I will be here for hours. I hope they make sense.... Oh, and by the way, some of the tips are INVALUABLE. I did my first jump through without touching the floor, first time!!! Unbelievable.
You give Ashtanga as a gift in box. You would open the box and there would be 5 things:
1) Breath (ujjayi breathing)
2) Bandha - not just a lock but more a valve
3) Drishti - not just a gaze or looking place but line of intent - the direction of your energy, not just your eyes looking (at your toe for example) If you are blind, you can still use drishti.
5) Vinyasa - Vinyasa is not the jumpback/through. It is sequence and synchronisation of the breath and the asana. Think of Pattabhi Jois' Yoga Mala - breath is the string of the mala, asana are the beads.
Inhale = expanding
Exhale = contracting
Never give 100% in your asana practice. Why? If you give 100% and your teacher comes and adjusts you it pushes you you over the 100% into the danger zone of injury. Always practice at 85-90%, your body will like you better and you will be able to practice for life, with less injury.
Warrior 2: Stand with the correct leg position and open yourself to the side with arms parallel, opening the chest and hips. Then simply turn your head. (Stops leaning the torso etc).
Padmottasana / Revolved triangle: When bending forward, think of someone pulling your sacrum back behind you whilst your chest moves forward over the front leg.
Ashtanga has no rules, but has boundaries, you can move between them.
Janu B - David was taught with the foot pointing out to the side. Now it is taught with the toes facing forward in the same position as A, you lift and place the perineum onto the heel. You should eb able to see your big toe.
Whenever you are gripping your toe around your finger, curl your toe around your finger to create opposing forces.
ACTIVATE WHERE NECESSARY, RELAX WHERE POSSIBLE
Flying, floating and hand standing:
NO.1 - AWARENESS TO WHATEVER PART OF THE BODY IS ON THE FLOOR.
Chaturanga: Only have your arms at the 90 degree angle if your back is flexible.
You can go lower (with the arms creating a less of an angle) shoulders above hands is OK. Rolling the shoulders forward is OK too.
Beginner's chaturanga - "push and plop"!! Teaches rolling over the toes and lifting the body from the floor (which is difficult!)
You're in downward dog. You look forward and visualise a skateboarder's half-pipe, you jump forward lifting the bottom at the top of the half pipe and as your bum comes through, look up towards the ceiling creating the half-pipe movement with your hips/bum ad place your bum down. (I did this first time I tried it after this instruction/visualisation)
Jumping through with straight legs - once you've mastered the half-pipe with cross legs, do it in the same way with cross legs then straighten the legs nay when you've come through, looked up and then place bum down. No one need know your legs weren't straight to start with :)
Straight leg jump throughs from scratch are for the very flexible (i.e. if you can easily do paschimottasana stomach touching thighs).
Jump through for beginners - "One, two, follow through" (describing two steps forward from down dog to hands then two legs coming through to sit).
Cross legs mid-calf not ankle. Alternate which leg goes on top each the you jump back.
You can jump through with both bent or straight arms - each are OK, but will either would be easier depending on your body type. (flexible, non-flexible).
Flex feet to pull through.
Hands - whole of hand into floor. Fingers are sometimes forgotten. Press fingers and fingertips into the ground to facilitate jump back/though.
Pranayama: When seated, draw the sitting bones, coccyx and pubic bone towards each other. Then visualise a swirling tornado at the centre of the square with the energy moving upwards.
Ardha baddha padmottanasana: Beginner's, lift leg and hold one hand under knee and one hand under foot. Stay there if that is enough. You can then release knee and move arm round the back to try and bind. Grag elbow if need be, work your way down to the the toe. Only then, if you can bind will you then allow the muddles of the inner thigh to relax and let your knee fall down.
The reason David teaches only bend if you bind is that there s the tendency to let the foot slip half way don the leg. This puts undue strain on the knee. You can use your bent standing leg as a shelf, that's OK.
Bhujapidasana: Beginners take feet do the outer edges are alined with the other edges of the mat. Bend the knees and place the hands to the floor but keeping the chest and the hips level all the way. You can stay there is that is enough. Top of the head on floor is fine to start - more proficient is your chin on floor but David was taught with top of head.
To jump into BJ from down dog (second series): Keeps head the same level as it is in DD. If it comes any higher you will tip backwards. Fingers press into ground.
Start with pasasana entry - knees together, feet together, hands in line with feet, then open knees wide behind arms and slowly wriggle feet back together and place wherever is comfortable on to of bent arms. Placing knees at the muscle attachment (e.g. at the armpit) will be more comfortable than placing them at the middle of the muscle.
Jumping into Bakasana - Think about doing it in slow motion. Bend arms before your knees into a shelf before you get anywhere near placing the knees onto them. Fingers press into ground. Slow it down. Keep head the same level as head in DD.
Tittbhasana: Think bakasana, but then extend legs straight, pointing toes and squeeze legs inwards against arms. Keep elbows bent is easier.
Pincha mayurasana: Elbows beneath shoulders, think apart drawing the hands apart but do not let them move. If going up one leg at a time the second leg is the important leg to keep the balance. Draw the legs together to the centre to get balance.
Think of back bending as front opening/stretching rather than backbending.
Paschimottanasana is the "western stretch" i.e. The stretch of the western side (when practicing towards the sunrises the west is behind you (your back)). It is your back which is stretching (not your hamstrings).
Ustrasana: When you are entering the posture you push hips forward and lean back. But once you have your heels you should have enough opposing force between the hips moving forward and the back arching that you should be finding holding the heels difficult (your hips are moving so far forward that you're pulling against the hands on the heels.
"The James Brown" = To come up from Ustrasana physically draw your knees together like JB does to come up from splits to standing on stage!
Drop backs: Same - draw knees together to facilitate coming up from backbend. Walk the hands of feet in if your knees are behind the heels. You will only get momentum if your knees are beyond your heels.
I didn't want to publish any notes on the full talk as I don't want to ruin anything for anyone who may go in the future to one of his workshops. So i'll finish it there, I hope you get something out of it. But if you can, you must go to practice with David at some point, I'd say sooner, rather than later.....
....You know, the one where you place the heel under the perineum?! Now, I go through fazes of hating certain postures. Rushing through the ones I hated hoping my teacher wouldn't see. About a year ago there were many (before I started a 6 day a week practice).
Purvottanasana - I just couldn't hold my pelvis high off the ground. Key: tuck the tail bone under, strong bandha and squeeze shoulder blades together.
Urdhva danurasana - back bending was just the bane of my life. Hated it. Key: tuck the tail bone under, point the pelvic bone toward the sky, strong moola bandha action.
Setu bandasana - can't release hands from floor - still can't. Key: Not exactly sure yet.
Janusirsasana B - WTF?
I used to think WTF is this posture all about? Janu A, yeah, I get that, Janu C, OK, I get the toe crusher thing (still not too sure what the hip action is meant to be going on there though - any thoughts please advise), but Janu B, so you sit on your heel, knee out to the side, then what? 'Awaken my perineum'? OK, it's awake now, I feel it. But what's the intended hip action action? I'm not feeling a thing! My outstretched knee is in hyper extension and I'm just wobbling all over the place hating the entire experience!
Last night D said we needed to look at my Janu B. Nooooo! Arrrgh! He pointed my foot forwards, heel facing upwards, which was like, a massive feat in itself trying to get the foot to be comfortable there. Then I lifted and sat on it. With the toes facing towards the front of the mat my knee went out further to the side, giving a bigger angle between the two legs. He held my hip down, rolled my thigh back and down then pressed my "kidney wing" (thanks Richard Freeman) towards the outstretched leg. Man, that felt weird, but in a good way. So now I feel like a have a new posture, completely new and quite excited about doing it again. On my own. Without falling off the heel. Does anyone else have an "issue" with Janu B? Or just me?
Hamstring update: still cannot do wide legged forward bending, tittibhasana, konasana. It's not budging, even though the pain is subsiding. Will stay off these postures for a few more weeks.
Jump back update: I'm now attempting the jumpback properly all of the time. I've only been doing this each practice for about 7 weeks, ever since I was chastised by B for my useless "lift bottom, place bottom down, then rock onto hands and jump back" jumpback. But wow, the difference the effort has made in just a few weeks is phenomenal. SCOOP: One major thing I've realised about the jump back and forward is the importance of the weight in the fingers as well as in the palm. I've been keeping it all in the palm. This has made a massive difference. Just try noticing what you tend to do if you don't already jumpback like a pro. Let me know how you get on.
David Swenson: Just so looking forward to this weekend's workshop with Swenny. The Swenson. Big D. I'll update you on any Swenson goss next week. Huzzah!
I've been waiting a while now for an appointment to get a small cyst removed from my leg. The appointment came through and it's on Wednesday. David Swenson weekend is Friday.
I phoned mum... "Mum, I have my operation on Wednesday".
Mum: "Oh that's great!"
Me: "But David Swenson weekend workshop is on on Friday? Do you think it'll be OK?"
Mum: "OK to cancel the workshop and get your money back?"
Me: "Nooooo...I'm not cancelling the workshop! I meant will I be OK to do the workshop with stitches!!!"
Mum: "Lol. Nothing comes between you and your practice!"
Sometimes my self practice feels like I'm performing some kind of self-flagellation, kinda punishing myself.
Like today, I'm just so sore. My ankles, hamstrings, sides of knees, sacrum, lower back and sides are just sore. That's like 6 body parts hurting at once! They hurt and they are reminding me every few seconds that they are hurting, that they are not happy!
It's days (sometimes weeks) that make me wonder why I put my body through this practice. But somehow this self-flagellation is the one reminder, the one thing that brings me back into the present moment, every few seconds, not being able to get away from the soreness or stiffness. Actually, reading this back this sounds like an awful concept, self-flagellation is an awful concept! I wish I never mentioned it now!!
Anyway, no matter how awful it sounds, the soreness is a constant reminder of my posture, my core, of my reaction to being in the present moment. I can't get away from the present moment. I have to react to it in a mindful way.
So in a way it's a good thing. I guess?
I'm so looking forward to my rest day tomorrow :)
(Nb: I was going to post a photo of self-flagellation with this post but browsing through the images on Google I think I've changed my mind...!)