My back-to-basics Ashtanga practice the past six weeks, with its focus on alignment and the stretch of the poses instead of finding my way as deep into the full state of the pose as possible, has yielded a few immediate lessons.
One has been a renewed and, let’s be honest, improved engagement with the bandhas. (If you’re bored enough to look through the Stiff Yoga Guide posts, you’ll discover that I mention finding the bandhas pretty frequently.)
Thursday morning, to keep this story short, I moved from Down Dog to the upper state of Chaturanga, as I prepared to drop myself ever so lightly and gently (note: potential untruths in there somewhere) to the mat for the Second Series Dhanurasana.
But there, in what I guess flow classes call plank, I felt … light. Weightless. I barely could feel where my hands and feet were touching my mat.
It felt, briefly, like I was flying. Or, at least, could fly. Hover. Float. Levitate.
The bandhas were engaged. Especially Uddiyana. For that moment.
And because so often the experience of a yoga practice gets described through sudden moments of awareness, stillness, familiarity, comfort, peace, etc., I will take this moment as something positive.
Anyway, this should lead into a pretty obvious Friday asana aid: Bandhas.
Here’s a good example of being lost in your practice.
I mentioned that when Bobbie and I went down to Tim Miller’s this Sunday for his Led First, we had a moment in Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana. When Tim got me to grab (with some aid) my foot with my wrapped arm, I didn’t know what to do with the other (hanging straight) one.
It turns out, of course, that I’ve been using that non-wrapped arm to hold up the half-lotus foot — my wrapped arm comes around and grabs on near the wrist.
No wonder, with my hanging arm suddenly free, I didn’t know where it should go.
But, with the pain and soreness from the Tim class still with me, I’m back searching my way through my focused-on-getting-more-flexible practice. And we’re to Ardha Baddha.
I’ve already suggested the main modification with the above: No forward fold and I grab my hanging wrist with the wrapped arm/hand. And the palm of the hanging hand is facing forward, although that probably is counter to how it is if/when you’re folding down. But I think it makes the grasp a bit easier.
The key thing I focus on here is trying to drop the knee that’s in half-lotus, to feel the opening in the inner thigh. And it is another good pose to be thinking about Uddiyana Bandha. (In some ways, I suppose, not folding forward encourages a Samasthiti-like sense.
I also hold the pose for 10 full breaths, trying mimic the amount of time it takes to fold forward, to hang out down there and then come back up.
Hey! We’re getting somewhere, right? Approaching half-way through the fundamental, standing poses.
As a reminder, a month-long effort to get back-to-basics and try to loosen up some of my intransigent stiffness led me to highlight some of the for-stiff-people modifications I’ve got going on in my somewhat like Ashtanga practice. At least a few people responded positively, so we are keepin’ on.
I’ve had varying degrees of “Bad man” adjustments in the poses up to this point. But now, well, there’s no turning back.
This one involves a yoga block.
For Parshvakonasa, I’ve got a block under the hand that’s on the floor (as opposed to the one in the air; I know, no duh). The point here is to emphasize the alignment. I try to imagine I’m as flat as possible against a wall. (I suppose I could go and move over against a wall for this and Trikonasana, but I am trying to maintain the breath/movement/vinyasa aspect of the practice as much as possible.) Not over-extending down to the floor also seems to have helped with the bandha engagement — I guess moving down too much counters the lifting of Uddiyana bandha?
I also, instead of lifting the top arm over my head and out in front of me, I’m wrapping it down around my back, landing my hand almost near my waist. This, too, seems to be helping with the alignment and stretch or twist of the pose.
Then here’s a neat trick. As you finish the first side and move up with your breath, you can hand off the block from the right hand to the left in a fluid, behind-the-back motion. One thing I certainly don’t like about blocks and other props is that, I’ve found, they tend to disrupt the natural movement of the vinyasas. Here, at least for me, that’s not a problem.
In the twisted or reverse version of the pose, I do something I’ve actually heard an Ashtanga teacher yell at a student not to do — I leverage the lower elbow against my front leg and press my palms together. My fingers are pointed toward my face and I’ve created, more or less, a square with my arms.
Apparently, for some teachers, this is very bad!
For me, though, it helps with the twist and, again, keeps me from over-extending down toward the floor.
Oh, and I should point out — one focus is always on keeping the back foot flat on the floor. If I had a dime for every time Tim Miller has pressed down on the outside of my foot in these poses, I’d probably have a couple more bucks to my name.
As I noted above, this is a pose that I seem to be able to find/isolate both Mula and Uddiyana bandhas. If you’re trying to instruct someone on these mysteries, perhaps this is a pose to work with to that end.
Finally: To finish, perhaps, our coverage of the rape last December in New Dehli: All four men found guilty have been sentenced to death.
I mentioned briefly that our new house has a subfloor, including in the room that is/will be the practice room. For practice purposes, that means that any minor thud down on the floor results in a huge, deep bang.
A major Uddiyana Bandha check, in other words. You know, the Flying Bandha. Apparently my UB ain’t quite as light and flying as I thought. I could use some help.
Uddiyana Bandha, in my opinion, may be the lost bandha. By that I mean it tends to get lost in the mad rush to understand Mula Bandha and ignored in favor of the easier-to-access Jalandhara Bandha. I know I’ve heard Tim Miller explain it umpteen times, and I try to keep his ideas . I also am trying to keep our Rolfer’s — Russ Pfeiffer — words in mind about keeping this part of the body lightly, but actively, engaged.
If you think about this bandha, it is easy enough to picture why it’s the one to help you fly. The middle of your body — your core, right? — is heading in and up. When jumping back from Down Dog — and this is when my loudest bangs happen — it all should be moving opposite gravity, enabling something like a light landing.
For me, there’s clearly something amiss in Down Dog in particular. My jump back during the seated poses don’t produce the same Jurassic Park-like thuds. I’m not sure if this is strange, but my guess is the issue is an upside down one. In Down Dog, Uddiyana Bandha ought to be easy to activate — that would go with gravity. But it’s also unusual, since I don’t spend most of my day head under heels. I’m probably slacking off.
There have been some hard landings this week, as a result. So I’ve gone searching. And here’s what I’ve turned up:
You achieve Uddiyana Bandha, by gently drawing the stomach inwards. At the end of an exhalation, when the need to inhale begins, imagine a golden thread that is attached two fingers width under the navel, that is pulling in and up. From and anatomical viewpoint, the transverse abdominal muscles will be lightly activated. …
Uddiyana Bandha draws Prana (energy) out of it’s foundation, the Muladhara Chakra, up through the spinal column. Uddiyana Bandha connects you with the element air, the energy of the Anahata Chakra in the middle of the ribcage. Uddiyana Bandha gives lightness, helping you to overcome the force of gravity.
A David Garrigues video:
I was hoping to find something at either Richard Freeman or David Swenson’s websites, but no such luck.
On a separate subject, we’ve been following the release of the Krishna Das documentary, One Track Heart. Most of the coverage and reviews have been from sympathetic perspectives (yoga blogs, etc), so this new review might give you an added take on things. In other words, it isn’t all sunshine and light:
One Track Heart is pretty much a sermon to the choir, and one wishes Frindel—also co-founder, with his wife, of the Brooklyn Yoga School—had offered even a rudimentary overview of Hinduism and its basic tenets for the unenlightened laymen in the audience. The film is unabashedly worshipful of KD, as are all the interviewees…
Still, if you think about it, the review comes out pretty positive. A lot of films of this vein are unwatchable due to their fawning nature and vaseline-framed view of things. That doesn’t seem to be the case here (too much). So check it out.