Sunday, 30 September 2012

Mula bandha - a little death...

Just came across a wonderful podcast from Michael Stone on samskaras and bodhisattva vow. I actually think I'm in love with him :) See the link below for the full talk if you have a spare hour.

So continuing the theme of mula bandha, Michael states that the practice of mula bandha is for your chitta (your attention span) to bond with your exhaling pattern (your apana). Thus you bond your attention span to the feeling of finishing your exhalation. He says that mula bandha is psychological as much as it is physical. When you really bring your attention to the end of the exhale, to the feeling of tone of the end of the exhale, you can't be thinking, you can't be caught up in a story, so that story teller goes through a bit of a death. Every time you finish your exhale you 'wring out' the storyteller. Apparently Pattabhi Jois used to say 'little bit dying' when he spoke of mula bandha. I love this.

So the way Michael sees the practice of mula bandha is exactly how one should live their life. Giving true attention to the end of the exhalation, to death,  to the scariest place you could think of, instead of phrenetically holding on to one's inhalation, our comfortable places, to our false forms of nourishment.

He says that the practice of mula bandha is the practice of kundalini yoga and that kundalini is a metaphor for 'arriving in your life'. I know what I'll be meditating on this week :) (And no, it's not Michael Stone!!)

Friday, 28 September 2012

Mula bandha, forward bends and achieving the perfect posture

Since I've found (at least one layer of)  mula bandha, questions keep arising.

I've always been told that in forward bends one should keep the back as straight as possible so as to lengthen the spine (fine) and so to not jeopardise the lumbar discs (makes sense). Yet, I came across an article by bandha yoga on degenerative disc disease and the sushumna nadis. Below is an extract form the post..

"let’s look at some widely circulated information on forward bends that seems to imply that forward bends in yoga cause disc herniations. It begins with a graphic description of lumbar disc herniations; however, absent from this description is any mention of the fact that most of us have asymptomatic disc herniations anyway. Also absent is any real evidence that yoga forward bends cause disc herniations. (My preliminary analysis of the data on ER visits for injuries from yoga did not reveal one herniation caused by yoga). Nevertheless, those circulating this information know that they can cause anxiety by implying that forward bends harm the discs. So far so good: a problem is presented, and a reaction (anxiety) is caused. All that’s left is the solution. The solution that has been circulated is to perform forward bends while sitting on a stack of blankets with the knees bent over a bolster, using the weight of the body to slump into the pose. While this is excellent preparation for sitting in a chair (or on a couch), it is almost unrecognizable from a yoga forward bend. Furthermore, the “slumped” posture has been shown to increase the pressures in the lumbar intervertebral discs, potentially harming them. 

Practising (and teaching) in this manner also establishes a “fear-avoidance” behavioral pattern, whereby the practitioner becomes habituated to doing the pose this way. The “solution” to the fear based “problem” thus creates a vicious cycle that disempowers the practitioner on both psychological and physical levels. This pattern of graphic descriptions of herniated discs and forward bends has been circulated several times in the media, (including with instructions to avoid using the protective and empowering mechanisms described in our previous post on the thoracolumbar complex).

So, to recap, we have all of the elements of “Problem, Reaction, Solution,” but all of them are based on a false premise: the implication that yoga causes a core problem (herniated discs). This is a well-known disinformation technique: imply that the problem was caused by the potential solution.'

I love the daily bandha and the information and tips Ray et al have given over the past few years have had a profound impact upon my practice. However, this post and my recent explorations into mula bandha have made me question the teaching of forward bends within the context of the 500 hour yoga TT course I'm doing. I also found this post by House of Ashtanga on forward bends and found this extract very interesting..

'During a forward bend, the upper body is flexed forward with the backs of the legs and the back muscles being stretched. Anatomically, most of the movement in a forward bend takes place in the hips and the lumbar region, that is the lower back area above the sacrum, as well as the sacral region of the spine. The traditional and originally taught method of forward-bending by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois is to simply fold forward, relax the head, round the back, tuck the tail bone in and avoid flaring the sit-bones up and away. This makes engaging mula bandha and uddiyana bandha possible and is a perfect example of how ashtanga yoga is more about integrating the energy (into the mula/uddiyana region) rather than ‘spacing-out’ and dispersing the flow of energy. The straight-back (flat-back) approach makes engaging mula bandha and uddiyana bandha almost impossible and has a certain disconnective effect.'

The feeling I get in the lower back when I do a forward bend now I'm engaging mula bandha is one which originates at the coccyx and lengthens through the SI joint and through the lumbar spine. It creates a feeling of rounding the lower back, but although I have not taken a photo of my new-found forward bend, it feels as if the rest of the spine is relatively straight. Well, I have my head to my shin, so it must be!! I've attached the link to the full blog post from House of Ashtanga below. Really interesting.

So these two posts got me thinking... Is the western way of teaching forward bends removing the potential for students to ever achieve a full fold? If mula bandha can only be truly engaged when there is a slight rounding of the back, then is this manner of teaching preventing students from ever finding mula bandha? There is also the question of ego here. The western way sometimes appears to be all about how a pose looks; you must keep the back completely straight, legs straight, no rounding or bending etc. But is this just so postures look nice? I've read people slagging off the postures on the practice sheets of Sharath, but when you look at the photos of Pattabhi Jois, they're a mirror image of Sharaths!! 

Are western teachers going to far with health and safety to the detriment of students' practices?

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Ashtanga research

I've had so much stick about the anal breathing post. Quite hilarious. But it's still working for me and I'm accessing depth in postures which I never thought could be possible.

Today's practice was awesome. I wasn't looking forward to it as I normally go to Stone Monkey to practice with Ben on a Sunday but it was cancelled.

So I mentioned about the anal breath in the forward bends which really helps to lengthen out right through from the coccyx through the sacrum. But today I tried it out in my drop backs as well and it helped to open up the spine beyond anything I've tried before. I dropped back on my own 3 times with my hands in prayer position which I've never done before. Better still I came up on my own twice!! I am so happy!

This week I also came up from laghu vajrasana on my own (albeit from having my head on two blocks) so I'm managing to work my thighs in the correct way, finding the strength to come up from that and also from kapo. I think a bit of second series really helps with dropping back and coming back up to stand.

I've even nearly got my jump-backs nailed. Turns out my hands have been a little too far forward of my hips... Why had I not realised this before?! So I'm just working on leaning a little bit further forward and getting my breath right now (I tend to hold me breath when I jump back strangely)! Does anyone else find themselves holding their breath sometimes?

Anyway, the practice continues to grown on a daily basis, finding new things to explore in every posture. I guess that's why they call it ashtanga research :)

Sunday, 16 September 2012

"Anal breathing"...breathing in the back body

I seem to be experiencing a period in my practice where every time I get on the mat I discover something new. I'm loving it. However, I'm kinda dreading the winter coming, the dark nights and mornings, the stiff body and well, yes, the stiff mind...

But for the meantime, it's still sunny here, warmish and I'll make the most of it.

So I read a blog post somewhere recently about anal breathing - sorry, I cannot remember for the life of me whose it was. Someone also mentioned Mark Darby mentions breathing through 'the anal mouth', which sounds hideous but what other anal-ogies (excuse the pun!) could one create?!! So yesterday I tried it.

For a moment I thought I'd found my MULA BANDHA!! Yes, the experience was that intense and powerful and changed my practice to an unbelievable degree. Now, a few months back I mentioned sitting in baddha konasana and having some kind of weird experience, albeit a nice one. Something shifted in my spine. I thought I'd worked out that this posture required ashmini mudra but I now I think it's this anal breathing thing. Ashwini mudra is the contraction of the anal sphincter, the outer section, but this is the contraction and pulling up of the area about 5 centimetres up from the anus, probably at the joint between the coccyx and the sacrum. 

I took my awareness and my breath to this area. When I inhaled I inhaled both through my nostrils and through my anus drawing up the anal breath through the contraction of this area. Inside it's like contraction of the top of the cervix and this area of the anal passage, bring them together, it's quite amazing. The benefits? FORWARD BENDS were the deepest I've ever experienced. I literally had my face on the floor, past me knees in all seated forward bends. I was using the anal breath to open and lengthen out of the sacra-iliac joint, breathing into the back of the body to release tension. I literally cannot wait to try it again today. It felt soooo good. 

Have I found my mula bandha?!!

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Controlling the rib cage for core strength

Bit of  breakthrough week I've's been amazing!

Last Monday I went to Oxford to practice with Manu at Yoga Garden. Got my first heel-grab in Kapo and my first supta vajrasana on my own and got back up albeit with a huge groan and a pull of both my biceps! By the end of the class I was shaking like a leaf...bloody nadi shodhana ;)

I haven't practiced for 3 days. I over did it on the lotus's last week, heard a crunch and they've both been a bit tender since. So I'm taking it easy. I've also pulled something just at the insertion of the hamstring to my left sitting bone, really not nice either, overdoing it on the forward bends, trying to get kurmasana with straight legs and finally getting chest down in upavistha konasana. So I'm practicing a lot more second series, which is coming along really well. 

So I've had a massive breakthrough with my navasana...I know, it's been a long time coming and I've been posting about my lack of navasana for ages now, thinking up all kinds of reasons why it wasn't happening. But my teacher said I had the core strength. Yes, my legs are long and that will be a problem with having the toes at eye level, but there's no harm in having them higher to balance the lever and keep it a safe posture without straining the lower back. So I've been working really hard on it. And something has finally clicked. It's about sucking the lower ribcage in. That simple. I was previously trying to get lift my chest, getting a big curve in my lumbar region and really trying to lift up/out of the pelvic bowel. However, this is all good for preparation of the posture, but as soon as I let go of the legs (I still have to hold them to straighten them first), I'm drawing the lower ribs back into the body, reducing the lumbar curve and I'm able to hold them straight for all 5 goes!! Hurrah! 

So I then got thinking about how this might affect other postures. So I gave it a go whilst jumping in to bhujapidasana, and low and behold I instantly gained more core control and managed a leg wrap for the first time without touching the floor!! Hurrah again!! And yes, you've guessed it, jumping through to sit is lighter and slower with more control. 

I even stuck pincha mayurasana in to the sequence today and managed a hold of 6 breaths!! Amaze! all because the ribcage was sucked in. 

Why did no one tell me that it was THIS important before?!!! Then again, I love it when I work things out by myself, it makes the journey way more interesting!