A full week into my back to basics (or finally to the basics?) Ashtanga practice, and it is both slow going and — dare I (emphasis on I) say it — invigorating.
It has been, as expected, a re-introduction the breath and bandhas. It still hurts. And it is a lesson in humility to discover, really, where my asana practice is on the most physical of levels.
With all the thoughts floating around in my head, confusing me at times, making me forget exactly where I’m at, I’ve narrowed things down to three fundamentals that I’m trying to keep always in mind. (The three usual fundamentals — bandhas, dristi and breath — go without saying, although not always without not doing.) Because I do believe we all are different enough that it can be difficult to universalize suggestions for practice (I’m mulling this over given how it relates to the teaching of Ashtanga), I only offer them up as suggestions, perhaps best for stiff beginners (or their friends who are trying to convince them to give yoga a go).
Legs straight with feet straight
Because this basic practice also has the basic focus of opening things up, loosening things, fighting the urge to cheat on stretches is at the heart of my intent. Legs must remain straight, even when it means I’m not grabbing ankles or toes, etc. But those straight legs are missing something if the feet cycle. In my case, it is because my internal rotators aren’t as strong as they ought to be. (And it is more the case with my left leg.) Ensuring my feet are turned in a little, thus activating those internal rotator muscles, changes a forward stretch from pulling around my knees to pulling through my hamstring. You know, kind of how it is supposed to work. It also hints at mula bandha.
An obvious corollary to the legs straight, right? But if the arms remain straight, we aren’t talking about somehow stretching the arm equivalent of the hamstrings. It helps with widening the chest and opening up the shoulders, which — surprise! — are another tight trouble area. Someday, perhaps, I’ll be able to drop my shoulder blades. And then, watch out backbends.
Moving from back bends… this typically is the counter to the legs straight commandment. It’s most basic import is to fight the tendency, again, to cheat by bending toward the knees to make believe there’s more flexibility than there is. But at a more fundamental level, it acts to get uddiyana bandha involved, on the sly. After all, what keeps the back straight?
So, that’s the state of my practice today. And probably tomorrow. Lots of focus on one word, right?
In other words, K.I.S.S.: Keep It Straight, Stupid.
Posted by Steve