Keeping length in inversions and backbends

Class Reflection #7

Kim’s Level 3-4

Tuesday February 14, 2017

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1. belted adho mukha virasana

This is the one that at least one or two people in class always need special help with, because it’s a confusing set up and difficult to explain. The buckle end of the belt is kept very short at the pelvis. The belt goes under and around the ankle. I want to take a life drawing class so I can illustrate stuff like this, wouldn’t that be fun?

In the end the belt keeps the ankles pressing in to the sides of the pelvis and presses the tops of the femurs down.

Then we took this as a forward fold, which seemed like a lot to ask of my “early morning” (it was 9:45 am) stiff self. Whew! I used a tall block to rest my little forehead on.

The main instruction: broaden the pelvis into the containment of the belt.

2. baddha konasana with a rolled blanket under the ankles (toes point toward floor), as a forward fold

Main instruction here: sitting bones together; i.e. lengthen the spine from the pelvic floor.

3. paschimottanasana

Use both instructions from the previous two poses, i.ee both broaden the pelvis and contain it by activating the muscles of the pelvic floor.

Also, this was very intense as a third pose in the practice, hoo boy. I was noticing I was *ehem* avoiding some of the muscular work instructed because of the yelling of the calves, spine, back of the skull, etc.

4. adho mukha svanasana

Ah the sweet saving grace of adho mukha svanasana!

5. virabhadrasana one

We did this twice, with much the same focus as the class from the previous day. The first iteration of the pose focused more on the internal rotation of the back leg, the second focused more on “sitting bones in” which helps to activate the pelvic floor.

6. trikonasana

On the second side Kim instructed to bend the back leg as a device that could help draw the outer head of the front leg femur back (creating nice length in the short side of the trunk).

This is the opposite of the approach we took in a parsvakonasana (with one foot up the wall) from yesterday’s class, where the outer thigh of the front leg was allowed to come out as far as needed while bringing the inner head of the extended leg femur back.

In this trikonasana the bend of the back leg helps to keep the inner head of the femur from falling forward as you draw the outer head of the front leg femur back. Then you resist the inner head of the back leg femur back as you straighten the leg not from the knee joint but rather the inner head of the femur!

7. a tricksy hasta padangusthasana to uttanasana threesome

Two partners “draw and halve” your pelvis in this one. It’s tricky because there’s no way the partners can know how much pressure they’re giving on the belt relative to one another (it’s basically bound to be unequal at some point) until you tell them. Then the pressure is difficult to maintain consistently over time and the strung up partner ends up being pulled back and forth like some kind of windblown reed or something (hopefully not so much, but there was an element of that happening).

That said this was a cool one to explore and the intensified pressure on the back side of the belt (encouraging internal rotation of the femurs) was nice, very nice.

Coming to uttanasana, the exploration is how to disallow the pelvis from resting back too far. Can this be done with the shins? Mine tried. (Ah, burning shins!) I think it’s more in the quadriceps, ultimately.

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8. half a handstand

Lift out of the shoulders, lengthen the pelvis upward!

9. adho mukha vrksasana with backbending tendencies!

Set up half a met length (ish) from the wall. The challenge (as always) is to keep the weight of the body from sinking into the shoulders, kidneys, etc.

10. half a handstand with a partner assist

Avery and I did a pelvis-lift assist which added inches to our poses! Woohoo! Felt totally different. We could really see how far there is to go with this.

11. tripod handstand

The third “leg” of the tripod is, of course, the head at the wall.

12. vrschikasana ish at wall

Whoo! Touch and go with this one. I got skeered of collapsing everything and falling onto I don’t know what. So I left right quick. Next time, maybe stay longer.

13. natarajasana

Interesting! I was feeling outer knee pain (lengthening, stretching sensation and not really in a good way—this same pain appears in dhanurasana) so Kim gave me some instructions that were helpful. I think the instruction was: lift the inner head of the lifted leg femur.

Here’s the conclusion to which I have come: “Knee in, knee in, knee in” is not an adequate mantra for this pose. Knee pain still appeared even with that running through my head (and leg). Avoiding that pain has more to do with broadening the back of the lifted leg groin (also helps to square the pelvis forward). This concept of broadening the back of the groin is something Avery has talked about in her classes (also Manuoso Manos in a discussion of sirshasana or sarvangasana, probably sirsasana).

Whee, so a cool thing to explore in backbends!

14. downward facing dog

The great neutralizer of all things!

15. uttanasana

I did paschimottanasana! Deviant yoga-class taker, me! 😐

16. savasana

Just feeling the droppy-downy-ness as we’re being instructed to come out of the pose! Ah, cruel clock! Oh, cruel fate!

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Creating stability in the legs and sustainable thorasic breathing for happy backbending

Class reflection #6

Kim’s Level 2

Monday February 12, 2017

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1. supta “urdhva hastasana” on a rolled blanket with bent legs

Suprisingly challenging! Phase 1 involves deepening the armpits and pressing the heels of the hands strongly into the wall. Phase 2: float the heels from the floor, taking the femurs parallel to the wall, without letting any of the pressure come out of the heels of the hands. Challenging! (Maybe not so suprising after all.) There are some things that want to happen to shorten the pose as the heels lift (which takes weight out of the heels of the hands), including abdominal gripping, kidney gripping, the chest closing, losing the external rotation of the humeri, etc.

2. pavanmukhtasana on same rolled blanket

With this set up there is more extension bias in the spine, and more of a challenge presented to the hip joint as a result. Phase one involves pressing the leg into the containment of the arms. Phase two involves removing the interlace of the fingers and floating the leg in space, leaving it just where it was.

3. supta hasta padangusthasana with and urdhva hastana ish thing also happening, on the same rolled blanket

The rolled blanket presents even more of a challenge to the hip joint and the length of the hamstring this time with both knee joints in extension. The lift of the arms overhead encourages more length in the side body and openness in the chest, and encourages the humeral bones to stay more in the sockets. Again, phase one is to press the leg into the containment of the belt, and phase two is to float the leg in space. Blissfully!

4. back to the first pose!

After warming and opening the hip joints and back of the legs, we explored the first pose again. Hopefully Kim saw new awarenesses opening up in us.

Not an abdominal pose!

5. adho mukha svanasana

Taking the pose from the floor to optimally set up the distance between the hands and the feet. Starting lying face down with the wrists at the bottom ribs, toes tucked under. Lift the groins, lift the shoulders to elbow height. Lift both shoulders and pelvis simultaneously! It’s like floating! (I’ve experienced the “floating” sensation about once ever.) The shoulders really want to come up first.

6. virabhadrasana one

From adho mukha svanasana—take the right leg toes to the wrists, set up heel to heel. Make sure to bend the front knee as fully as possible. Internal rotation of back leg and lift of the back leg femur helps to square the pelvis forward.

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7. adho mukha svanasana

8. virabhadrasana one again

This time, get the pelvic floor on board more actively. Sitting bones come toward each other which assists uddiyana, the lift of the inner body.

9. gravity assisted parsvakonasana ish at the wall, with an added baddha (bound) option

Lift back leg groin lots, even if it lifts the outer head of the lifted (bent) leg femur. Then without losing any height of the back leg groin, tuck that outer thigh down. Hang a (figurative) sandbag off of it! Walk the fingertips up the wall, lengthening the right side body (if it’s the right leg that is lifted).

If the length of the side body rests on the thigh, then consider taking the right arm under the right leg and grasping the left wrist. Straigten the left arm, spiraling the chest open.

10. virabhadrasana two

Similar actions in the inner/outer heads of the femurs as in the previous pose. Also: the outer head of the extended leg femur presses in to the pelvis, which is what bends the bent knee leg. Whee!

11. thorasic breathing in tadasana with belt

The belt should be not too tight, and as high up under the armpits as possible. With the exhalation tighten the circumference of the belt equally (typically the front of the body is more open to expanding on the inhalation than the back body). Keep that even pressure with the exhalation.

This is, like, demanding and stuff. And feels like it would be helpful to work on for someone who likes to sing, occasionally.

12. ustrasana with a wall and only one block this time (not two, yay!)

One block goes inbetween the ankle bones. Squeeze the block. Use thorasic breathing here to lift the armpit chest (this is purpose of the second block).

Thorasic breathing = your best friend in backbends.

13. danurasana

Knees in, heels out. Like virasana. Keep the bottom front ribs on the floor, lift the groins to keep the pubic bone from grinding into the floor (someone asked). It’s as though you’d straighten the legs.

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14. urdhva mukha svanasana

A curious instruction I’d like to continue to explore: “Melt the muscles of the back.” This means outer thighs, bottom buttocks, and thighs working strongly, supporting the spine but also allowing it to traction out long.

15. adho mukha svanasana

After urdhva mukha svanasana this down dog felt especially “flexiony” in the lumbar area.  As though I couldn’t get the sacrum in as much as I would like. Seems counterintuitive, like a backbend of this sort would help the sacrum to move in even farther in subsequent poses.

16. Angela’s dog

This is the twisty one! Kim corrected my pose to include even more dropping of one side of the pelvis, which made for a super duper refreshing opening of the side body. Whee!

17. prone twist on bolster (or two blankets)

This one sometimes proves interesting to navigate with tender boobies. Especially using two folded blankets which can be more structured and less squishy than a bolster. It was hard to drop down into this one because I couldn’t find a good way to avoid squashing the one boob.

18. savasana

So short!

Standing poses and containing the outer thigh

Class reflection #5

Avery’s Level 2-3 class

Saturday, February 11, 2017

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1. Sit and chant in swastikasana with two blankets

2. makasana prep on forearms and knees

Sink T1 in, palms up, little finger sides of hands toward block

3. makasana

Diving right in! This pose is intense and a nice way to warm up right away. Palms down now, thumbs in front of leading edge of block. Nice big untuck of the sitting bones, walk the toes in as far as possible. Shoulders directly over the elbows!

4. phalakasana on forearms

5. adho muhka svanasana

6. anjaneyasana

An antidote for too much sitting!

7. high lunge to parsvottanasana

Stamp down back heel strongly, draw the outer head of the front leg femur strongly back. I have a tendency to sink forward in this—it’s amazing how much weight I can pull out of the front leg foot and ankles, but only for a moment as it’s a difficult action to maintain.

Big extension/lengthening bias with this first iteration of the pose: walk the hands forward.

Avery gave the option of taking a block under the ball of the front foot intensify the opening of the back of the leg. I abstained!

8. gomuhkasana arms with belt

Preparing for reverse namaskar!

9. reverse namasakar

Preparing for full parsvottanasana!

10. parsvottanasana

Very short hold—I wanted to stay much longer, at least on the second side. Right leg forward is more difficult to access for some reason.

11. vrksasana

Such a challenge to contain the outer thigh of the standing leg in this pose. The tendency is really to allow it to sink/collapse/press out to the side. Contain!

12. utthita hasta padangusthasana with external rotation of lifted leg

Standing near a wall. Wow, the challenge to contain that outer thigh is amplified here!

13. vasisthasana

Whew! Avery assisted someone right in front of me for this one. It was so cool to see how the external rotation of the suporting arm humerus suctioned the scapula into the back body and drew the shoulder down away from her ears. It seemed to unweight her whole pose for a moment. After Avery finished the assist the practitioner repositioned her hand on the mat and lost that action. Nice to see the difference in organization of her pose over the course of only a few moments.

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14. baddha konasana as a forward fold with support for the bottom floating ribs and head

Nice! Avery also offered a supported kurmasana ish pose (bolster under the knees) as an alternative.

15. savasana!

Ah, sweet sweet sava 😉

Class sequence: Backbends and femur grounding

Class Reflection #4

Kim’s Level 3-4

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

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1. utkatasana at wall (facing away from the wall)

Step two foot lengths away from the wall, facing the middle of the room. (“This is zero feet from the wall, this is one foot from the wall, this is two foot lengths from the wall.”) Heels heavy. Take a moment to explore the mobility of the hip joints: i.e. begin with the legs straight and bend the knees, not sliding the sacrum down the wall but rather bringing the coccyx closer to the wall and fulcruming on the hip joints. The SI joints broaden, and if you’re Sage they might start feeling a little stretched or weird, maybe not in a healthy way. Probably more containment, more compacting of the pelvis is needed for me to resist the broadening of the pelvis action.

2. utkatasana at the wall (facing the wall)

This one is always fun! The wall is the container (om namah wall namaha) which keeps the trunk from leaning too much forward. Reach the little fingertips up the wall, maybe even away from the wall, femurs coming as close to parallel with the floor as possible. Commence intense burning of the quadriceps and the urges from the mind to get out get out get out get out. Resist the silly monkey mind, hold it gently by the tail but feel relief when Kim says, “and at some point you may want to stop doing this.”

3. hasta padangusthasana ish with a wall and a chair

Have feet a certain amount from the wall, bring the heels of the hands to a chair. Rest the pelvis back at the wall, bring the heels to the wall. Heels of hands resting underneath the shoulder girdle. Bend the knees, straighten the legs until the calves lightly touch the wall. At that point do the thing we did all teacher training weekend, pin the outer head of the femur back toward the wall, the origin of the hamstring flush against the wall with the pressure not increasing on the calves (ha! maybe in a future time). That would be a hyperextensive action of the knee, i.e. something to be avoided.

4. hasta padangusthasana to uttanasana with a partner

Use a chair to begin in much the same way as in the previous pose, just don’t have a wall. The partner measures with their fingers the length of the side body (the space between the pelvic rim and the floating ribs). As you transition from hasta padangusthasana to uttanasana that space should only lengthen, not shorten (which would indicate collapsing the front body on the diaphragm, gripping the abdominals, or some such thing).

5. supta virasana with partner

Once you’re in supta virasana, your partner takes a finger to L4/L5 to make sure they’re not poking out. Also two fingers to the bottom front ribs. The front ribs should rest in as should L4/L5. The work is to LENGTHEN THE GROINS. This happened today for at least a moment, wheee! How did I do it? Who cares? I’ll find the words for it someday, maybe. It probably had to do with moving the femurs toward the floor, that is maybe what it felt most like. Kim said, “This is what Ramanand means when he says tuck the tailbone. It’s not a pelvic action, the sacrum and tailbone release down,” lengthening the whole pose, bringing L4/L5 and the bottom front ribs even further away from your partner’s fingers.

6. thorasic breathing with partner

Practice! Thorasic openness is difficult to maintain with exhalation. Maybe I will have less fatigue while singing when I can more easily access this?

7. uddiyana kriya

Cleasing technique! Useful first thing in the morning before eating or drinking to wake up and massage the organs.

Is it normal to experience a small amount of flexion (tucked pelvis) upon exhalation and opening the ribs?

8. everyone’s least favorite ustrasana

Oh golly! Bring the knees to the wall, wide block between the ankles (virasana-like) and a block to the collarbones, almost instantly bringing feelings of claustrophobia and quadricep fire to the fore. Lift the block (why oh why didn’t I get a foam block, you might ask) with that thorasic breathing, keep the block lifted, don’t let the block drop.

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9. 3-partner setu bandha

A subtle narrowing here occurs at the bottom front ribs as the sternum widens and broadens. Similar to what happens in the pelvic girdle when the sitting bones bloom open and the iliac crests come in toward each other.

10. partner backbend on horse

Scapula rest on top of the support, grab your partner’s forearms as your spine is tractioned long.

11. urdhva dhanurasana with rope

The rope rests directly inbetween the coccyx and the pelvic rim. A piece of mat or blanket here is nice for padding. I saw Alice getting one but rather than getting one myself I got into the ropes and into the pose and almost instantly felt regret but then as the backbend commenced almost instantly forgot the regret. Distracting backbends.

12. urdhva dhanurasana with chair

Start with the length of the shins resting on the chair, the pelvis, shoulder girdle and head resting on the floor. Bring the palms to the floor, fingertips pointing toward the shoulders, hands about shoulder width apart. Lift the pelvis first, no part of the neck or spine touching the floor. Tops of the shoulders rest on the floor, sternum coming toward the chin. Straighten the elbows! Whee! Hope that the chair doesn’t slide around or crumple beneath you! Shoulders down first, then pelvis, lengthen the back

13. adho mukha svanasana

Still a lot of tightness in the calves today, even at the end of practice. Probably because we didn’t do many standing poses.

14. haluttanasana (halasana/uttanasana)

Ahhhh, so nice, but I wanted to straigten the knees but the calves the calves the calves so tight.

15. savasana

Very short and very not-drop-down-y probably because we spent almost every available moment up to the very end backbending.

I’ve been craving yoga lately a lot mostly because I want the feeling of more openness in the armpit chest area. I’m realizing more and more the habit of closing the chest and I can definitely feel the congestion in the upper front body especially in the mornings the day after a break from doing yoga practice. So nice to go to Kim’s class and open it back up again. 😉

Kim’s level 3-4 class, Tuesday

Class Reflection #3

Kim’s Level 3-4

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

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The theme of today’s class was: finding the pelvic floor.

1. squatting with ropes -> utkatasana

Find length in the side ribs!

2. utkatasana at wall

Same idea as in Monday’s class—stand half a foot length from the wall and enjoy the fire in the quadriceps. I’m realizing I don’t spend a whole lot of time in this pose so spending a lot of time on it two days in a row was challenging muscularly (and mentally).

3. hasta padangusthasana ish with a block or two

a) begin with knees deeply bent and a bit of extension bias (especially lumbar lordosis) to the spine

b) keep pelvis way back, don’t allow the “containing” leg knee to come forward at all as you straighten one leg. this pins the femur way back in the socket

c) visit utkatasana, observing spine (did you gain any more length, or extension? don’t lose it on the next side)

BONUS POSE! (i.e. I forgot to include it in the notes) urdhva ardha bekasana at the wall

4. adho mukha utkatasana (bent knee dog pose) -> adho mukha svanasana

5. and 6. virabhadrasana 1

First we explored Vira 1 with a heel to heel stance, then again with a narrower stance. In the second version the pelvic floor is much easier to access (or so Kim and others say, I am still slowly developing an awareness of pelvic floor stuff so I’m pretty much just accepting  what folks tell me about this at this point).

7. parivrrta trikonasana

Sitting bones together is another way to say “Engage the pelvic floor!” as essential action for not falling over in this pose.

BONUS POSE! Angela’s dog!

8. “a whole fleet of boats,” starting with lagunavasana

The overarching theme of all the boat poses was: can you start off with an engaged, active pelvic floor then add in the abdominals? The abdominals will come on board regardless but can you access the pelvic floor from the beginning?

9. paripurnanavasana

10. salamba paripurnanavasana (with wall, block and mat)

Can you pull the sacrum away from the block?

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11. ardha ardha navasana (“half” half boat)

This is the one where you squash your partner’s poor defenseless finger by weighting the middle of the sacrum. This is flexion, people!

12. ardha navasana

The full version of the pose! Still partnered though. The “pose”-er has the fingers at the pubic symphysis to observe the abdominals, which should not press forward (they always seem to do this) but rather pull in and up. I’m keeping the faith, y’all. Someday I’ll know what Kim (and my classmates) is talking about.

The partner has the palm of their hand at T6, inflate the back to create healthy, long flexion. In this one you balance on the sacrum.

13. series: dandasana -> paripurna navasana -> ardha navasana -> etc.

14. supta navasana

The cervical spine follows the thorasic flexion, so there is length in the neck rather than compression (like looking up in Vira 1, the jaw and base of the skull lift). Other than that the curves of the spine are theoretically neutral. You’ve got lumbar lordosis and T6 at the floor (we hope).

15. uttana padasana

No abdominals for this pose! Iliopsoas it is.

16. adho mukha svanasana—the best downward facing dog ever!

17. trikonasana—breif visit

So nice to do challenging standing poses this late in the practice. How accessible they feel!

18. adho mukha svanasana once more!

19. savasana!

Great class today! A lot of the pelvic floor stuff feels like it’s over my head (under my head?) so I’m excited to revisit this sequence once I get more of an embodied understanding of what the role of the pelvic floor is.

 

Two class sequences, from a level 2 and 2-3 class

Part of the 300 Hour Yoga Teacher Training program I’m taking at High Desert Yoga involves attending 36 (I think) classes and doing a little write-up of each one, including the sequence and a reflection, which I’ll share here.

Class Reflection #1

Avery’s Level 2-3

Saturday, January 21, 2017

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1. om satya om

We started this class seated, chanting.

2. urdhva hastasana to utkatasana

3. version of hasta padangusthasana (lower spine rain catchment!)

4. adho mukha svanasana

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5. parsvottanasana and adho mukha svanasana

6. tadasana with gomukhasana arms

7. reverse namaskar (preparing for parsvottanasana with reverse namaskar arms)

Begin with feet as wide as the mat, bring hands to reverse namaskar. Press equally the base of the palms, the mounds. The fingertips are the nose of a little fish, swimming up the spine! Fold as in uttanasana, which broadens the back and asks more mobility of the shoulder joints.

8. parsvottanasana with reverse namaskar arms, visit virabhadrasana 1 between sides

Big balancing pose, with the arms “bound” in this way. Requires a lot of work from the front leg outer thigh, to contain all that joint-loose wobblyness I have 😉

After parsvottanasana, vira 1 felt much much more accessible and free. A bigger, deeper, more stable and adventurous vira 1 than I’m used to experiencing.

8.5 best down dog ever!

I love doing multiple down dogs in a class. It’s so much fun to watch the way the pose evolves after certain poses. This one was the bomb! Felt like a lot of stuff was clicking into place. Femurs back = quiet mind.

9. virabhasdrasana 2

10. makasana + eka pada

T1 in! Suction the two halves of the pelvis toward each other! Internally rotate the thigh of the lifted leg. That back groin will broaden. Lots of muscular work in the legs and outer thighs.

11. pinchamayurasana with block

The challenge here is to lengthen the heels up the wall, which helps keep the kidney area from collapsing (my usual tendency).

12. sirsasana

Press shoulders forward. This does not unground the humeri, but rather keeps the cervical spine from collapsing and becoming compressed, congested.

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13. sarvangasana-related poses

a) chatush padasana

b.1) setu bandha ish with feet supporting at the wall

b.2) sarvangasana

b.3) halasana

c) rest—shoulders come to the floor, the edge of the blanket supports under the scapula, stretching the upper lungs open. Delicious!

14. leading toward savasana

a) kurmasana ish, with those sarvangasana blankets supporting under the calves (so quieting!)

b) savasana with calves still supported by those sarvangasana blankets, plus a pillow for the head

I loved this class! I felt totally ready for the day.

Class Reflection #2

Kim Schwartz’s Level 2

Monday, January 30, 2017

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  1. supta urdhva hastasana -ish on a rolled blanket supporting the pelvic rim, with bent legs

Bending the legs at first perhaps increases a feeling of safety for a new practioner who might feel more vulnerable with the legs extended first thing. Perhaps with the legs bent the belly can soften and the groins can deepen.

Also, with a reduced challenge to the lower half of the body the focus can really come to deepening the armpits as much as possible, the biggest focus of this pose. How much can the upper lungs stretch open? How deeply can the inner heads of the humerus sink back into the shoulder sockets? And how heavily can the heels of the hands press into the wall, i.e. how much length can be found in what Kim sometimes calls the “armpit groins”?

2. a version of pavanmukhtasana on the same rolled blanket

The rolled blanket support challenges the hip joints more due to the big untuck of the pelvis.

3. a version of supta hasta padangusthasana on the same rolled blanket

Again, the big untuck of the pelvis supported by the thick rolled blanket challenges the hamstrings and hip joints more than a smaller support (say, a tri-folded blanket) would.

Let’s say the right leg is lifting first. Here the intention is to keep the left hamstring on the floor, keeping the belly soft as the right leg lifts. This is maybe not an abdonimal pose, as Kim said today. An iliopsoas pose, sure, but hopefully not abdominal. The belly can be soft even as the quadriceps engage enthusiastically, outer thighs alive, the inner head of the left femur sinking toward the floor and the outer head of the right femur drawing down across the room.

3.1-3.3 utkatasanas at the wall

I must be making some kind of progress here, because these utkatasanas at the wall are feeling less claustrophobia-inducing of late. In fact, I’ve been feeling more able to manage those gritchy feelings of “ah, I’ve gotta get out of here!” (i.e. the pose) or at least I’d like to think so 😉

3.5 utkatasanas with ropes

Here, we started in a rope-supported version of utkatasana and with as little disturbance as possible to the pelvis and spine, extended one leg back at a time, allowing the back leg toes to rest on the floor. It’s a challenge to keep the extended leg groin lifted.

4. femur grounding pose with wall, chair, and belt

For me this one always gets the outer thigh of the supporting leg nice and warm, maybe even cramping! Finding that work in the outer thigh can be hard to access but this one is so great for awakening that aliveness. I like doing this pose before something that requires a lot of stability like Vira 3. I tend to wobble less after doing nice stabilizing, outer-thigh awakening stuff like this.

4.5-4.6 vrksasanas, in middle of mat and at wall

We first explored vrksasana in the middle of the mat before Kim walked us back to the wall.

The wall version was interesting—during the first phase the instruction was to press the knee of the lifted leg strongly into the wall, creating a nice big external rotation of the lifted leg and encouraging the “back groin” (i.e. outer head of the femur area) of the lifted leg to suction into the body, drawing down toward the floor. During the second phase more stability was needed—with the knee pulled ever so slightly away from the wall.

Kim also said something amazing I’m having trouble clearly remembering right now—something about an action originating from the outer thigh of the supporting leg. Maybe that’s where the openness of the lifted leg groin can come from?

5. gravity assist parsva konasana

Ah, for a floppy flexy joint loose person like me these can really activate the outer thighs. Seems like that’s the theme of this class. Make Sage’s outer thighs as shakey and quivery as possible.

I’ve got this big desire in this pose to avoid as much as possible the walking of the fingertips up the wall. Probably because that takes more muscular work than dropping the palm of the hand to support at the chair seat, which is my big inclination.

6-6a. virabhadrasana 2

Rajiv Chanchani, in a workshop I took at the Yog-Ganga Centre for Yoga Studies in Old Rajpur, India last November, said something about Americans who wear their hearts on their sleeves and also have “I love yoga” bumper stickers. He said he wanted to take a magic marker and add to them “for two minutes.”

I was remembering this as we stayed in this big muscular standing pose. Remember that thing I said before about thinking that I was not feeling as much “Get me outta here!” type feelings as before? Ha ha haa!

7. anjaneyasana

This second side of this pose is usually significantly more difficult for me—it’s a fatigue thing.

8. Ah, delicious downward dog!

The first downward dog of the day and it came so late in the practice! And how delightful it was. I wish we had stayed longer.

Coming into this pose so late in the practice, most everything seemed nice and warm and ready for a satisfying visit to the pose. The untuck of the sitting bones was nice and accessible, the calves not too resistant to releasing the heels toward the floor.

9. supta twist (with extension bias) on bolster, with sandbag and blankets

I’ve had a hard time with this one. It’s difficult to attain a feeling of symmetry between sides. The set-up somehow seems more confusing and prone to error in terms of getting the first and second sides to feel similar to one another.

Plus, I prefer the prone version with flexion bias because it’s just so dang quieting and relaxing. Instantly.

10. sava!

Need more sava. How do people get out of the pose and the class so quickly?!

Also I didn’t set myself up well—I could have used more length in the lower back, there was some compression there.

I loved this class too! Interesting how difficult “simple” pre-asana can be, especially for the mind. There’s a lot of “Get me outta here!” type of emotions that can pop up. The theme of this class definitely seemed to me to be about femur grounding and outer thigh awakening, all things I could use more of. Immediately after class my outer thighs were all shakey, now the morning after class I’m noticing a little soreness in the quadriceps. 😉

My first Ayurvedic kitchari cleanse: Field notes

Days 1-4.

This is the first cleanse I’ve ever done, and to a big extent the first major set of restrictions I’ve ever put on myself, diet-wise. I was vegetarian for about year in an effort to avoid all the gross stuff that is pumped into/accumulates in the animals Americans consume every day, but in comparison to this cleanse, vegetarianism seems like a really simple equation: just don’t eat meat.

Here, since we’re talking Ayurveda and I’m from a Western background, a lot of the ayurvedic guidelines seem less than intuitive. So, speaking generically for my constitutional type (pitta vata), black beans are not okay to have but some other beans are fine. Part of me just wants to scream out BUT WHY?! Why does it matter? Who figured all this out? And who ultimately decided what kind of food is okay for which person?

So I’m doing this cleanse on faith. 😉 Faith that  even though I have very little reason, steeped as I am in Western culture, to think that some of these practices (for example drinking an increasing dose of melted ghee each morning, from 2 tablespoons on Tuesday to 4 tablespoons this morning) will do something to cleanse or nourish this body of mine.

Also keep in mind that this writing is coming from a good dose of pitta fire most likely induced by the rather abrubt change to 3 square meals a day (from almosy totally randomized meal times plus snacking throughout the day). So if I seem short that might be at least partially why.

The thing is, especially in the West, there’s an exponentially expanding multiplicity of perspectives on what could be good for you or bad for you. My technique up until now has been to ignore them all and mostly just eat what I enjoy, save maybe the bias that fresh organic veggies are superior to the conventionally grown, perhaps canned, cooked kind.

But now I’m adhering to some guidelines that sometimes seem just kind of crazy. But I’m doing it anyway, because faith. And peace (sort of) with the process.

What does this cleanse involve?

Restrictions on types of food. 

Warm, cooked, simple, comforting foods. Foods that I enjoy eating, but are for the most part way more limited as far as ingredients go than I’m used to cooking with. These foods fit  within the rather narrow guidelines set forth for those with high pitta (hey, I have high pitta), here.

By “narrow” I mean I’m supposed to stay away from cheese and yogurt, in general. Agh. Why must it be this way? These things, they have such a place in my heart. Maybe literally.

Daily practices. 

Morning yoga practice. Rest. Mindfulness practice. These are things I can get behind.

Nightly neti pots. Sold.

Nightly taking of triphala. Deal. 😉

Eating: Who thought this could be a logistical nightmare?

So, according to Ayurveda, snacking is no good. It dilutes one’s digestive fire so that it has to focus on more than one point in the digestive tract at one time, which is a sure way to promote inefficient digestion of all foods.

So not only has it been a challenge to eat just three times a day, without snacking, I have to find a way to eat the perfect sized portion to get me through to the next meal without going cray.

Posture affects the psyche

I’m most of the way through this 200 hour teaching training program at this point and it’s probably the neatest thing I’ve done with my life, ever.

What did we talk about this past weekend? Wellll. This stuff is difficult to describe in writing, but here I go anyway.

First, a defining of terms. Grounding the femurs. Femurs are thigh bones. When they come forward in the hip sockets, this is referred to as an ungrounded femur. This is undesirable. When the head of the femur presses forward, rathen than back deeply into the socket as it is meant to do, the weight of the body hangs forward onto the ligaments of the front pelvis, giving little sense of organization or support to the rest of the body.

Most hip replacements occur because the cartilage of the front edges of the hip joint have worn away from standing in such a way over the course of a lifetime.

Second term: Gripping the kidneys. This is not so much an action of these organs themselves, but more of a habitual action of the back body which could be a result of muscular gripping or collapse around the back bottom ribs. Holding tension in this area can aggravate the adrenal glands, which sit atop the kidneys. This can cause anxiety, a fight/flight response—also not a great habit. Lengthening and broadening this area can be a very good thing.

Next! Opening the upper chest. A lot of people collapse their collarbones forward, rounding their shoulders which pushes T1 (the first thorasic vertabrae) out toward the back body and allows the sternum to collapse. This puts weight on the upper lungs. I’ve heard one teacher describe this as crippling self-doubt.

This collapsed chest is very fashionable. I remember reading in a copy of Cosmo once that it’s a shape women should make with their bodies in order to attract the men to them at bars. They called it “cradling the baby.” Because…that would remind men of women’s fertility and the sexual attraction? …and then they’d think of babies and the sex that would ostensibly need to happen to make the babies? …and then they’d come over and ask for your number? That, along with allowing your high-heeled shoe to come off your heel a bit. (Not to mention how raising the heels presses the femurs forward into the sockets…talk about ungrounded!)

Look at all the babies these folks are just waiting to cradle. from luca sartoni

Look at all the babies these folks are just waiting to cradle. from luca sartoni

Anyway, I went to a bar a couple weeks ago. Everyone—men included—was cradling the baby. Everyone’s shoulders were rounded forward, with a collapsed sternum. As a culture, why are we doing this?

Now, onto the story from class I mentioned paragraphs ago. Kim, my teacher, mentioned a story that his teacher, Ramanand Patel, told him. Ramanand had a theory: if everyone in the world had grounded femurs, there would be no war. Because people would have such a strong sense of self from their stable, organized bodies, that they wouldn’t feel the need to lash out as others.

Then Ramanand took a look at Saddam Hussein. Very grounded femurs, distressingly enough. But, he also drove his kidneys forward and collapsed his sternum. So here’s a person who has a very strong sense of self and purpose (grounded femurs, root chakra), lots of aggression (kidneys driving forward/manipura chakra), and no heart (collapsed sternum/heart chakra).

So Ramanand had to revise his theory.

Grounded femurs have to be mixed in with other important organizational factors. And, of course, none of this is a guarantee. A collapsed sternum does not guarantee a lack of heart. There are many variables at play. But there’s no question that the organization of the body does have a direct affect on the psyche.

And as if this weren’t fascinating enough, Kim went on to tell us about an ex-military student of his, who described the “at attention” posture during class: femurs poking forward (no will, no sense of self, “cog in the machine”), kidneys driving forward (lots of aggression), sternum collapsed (no heart).

The reason I find this so fascinating is that if the yogis and the military folks have both noticed these patterns in the symbolism and function of posture, there has got to be some truth to this yoga stuff. 😉

Yoga is this all-encompassing life science that can teach a gal ever so much about the way that people move through the world.

Here’s to practicing better posture!

Pelvic floor observation and a few class

Pelvic floor partner exercise reflection:

Alas, the biggest reaction I’ve had from doing these exercises, and listening to other people’s responses, is that I kinda just didn’t get it. Other people seemed to have more of a deeper reaction to the exercise than I did! I feel like I wasn’t present enough.During the partner exercise, when I was the person in savasana, I was able to feel into my lower belly by not so much into the pelvic floor itself. The right side of my lower belly felt a little tighter, a little less able to balloon out or accept the breath. When my partner pressed into the tops of my thighs (adding pressure to the right side), it was a bit easier to open up the right side.

As the observing person, I saw her breath as deep and open. It seemed really relaxing (she’s good at breathing!). Her breath toward the lower belly seemed symmetrical to me. Afterwards, she described her left side as feeling less open, almost chunky, and her breathing as strained (because she was trying so hard to breathe deeply). Surprising to me because her breathing seemed so open and full to me!

But here’s a small victory on my part: I observed, while later sitting (and recording a friend’s music) that the first (outermost) layer of my pelvic floor released. So I can access that area after all! Just like magic! Hooray!

I’m excited to revisit all this again and see if I can’t open myself up to some deeper observations.

It’s kind of the same story for the self-massage exercise. Mostly it seemed an incomprehensible area. There is so much to learn and discover! There was definitely tenderness, although I perceived it as tenderness of the flesh of the walls of the vagina rather than muscular tenderness of the pelvic floor. But here’s something exciting: I found my tailbone, woohoo! Wayyyyy back there lives the coccyx and it was very very cool to discover it from inside.

Zoreh’s class (last Monday):

After taking so many of Kim’s level 3-4 classes, it was so nice to take a more accessible class. But that’s not to say that I felt I had any “mastery” over the more basic poses she asked us to do. There were still really fundamental questions that needed answering–for example, in the wind liberating pose, where does the ankle of the bent knee head toward? It wants to go to the opposite groin but one should rather encourage it to go outside the bent leg hip as in virasana, to, as Zoreh puts it, find even more delight in the pose.

I felt I discovered at least one more important thing in this class that it’s nearly impossible to discover in a higher-level class like Kim’s 3-4 (for me at this point). There’s just too much going on and little important fundamental details tend to get lost. So the thing I realized is there’s some asymmetry in my ribs: I noticed in a shoulder bridge that my left bottom rib sticks out a bit more than the right one does, which indicates that the left kidney is shorter than the right.

The thing that may have astonished pre-high desert yoga teacher trainee Sage is that I just about as many questions in Zoreh’s level 1 as I do in Kim’s classes.

Kim’s class (last Tuesday):

Ahh, this class! I didn’t even take notes on the sequence of this class, it had me so grumpy. All those back bends had me so headachey I just couldn’t enjoy it. I think I was pretty much going through the motions of the poses, probably practically flinging myself into them and almost certainly flinging myself out of them.

Kim’s class (today!):

Today when I realized we were headed into backbend land again I was dismayed! But I tried to set my preconceptions aside and enjoy them instead. It’s not that I necessarily enjoyed them this time around, but at least I didn’t get as grumpy as I did last week (also we didn’t do as many back bends as last week which was a welcome gift!) 😉

I’m so glad though that that state of mind allowed for this realization/theory of gripping in the front body creating the headache.

I’m excited to work more with the exercises Kim showed us after class (oh and I’m feeling slightly to not so slightly guilty about asking him to help as he was taking his belongings from the cubby, leaving the room! Ah!)

Oh and I’m imagining also that he’s already tired of continuously correcting my parsva konasana/trikonasana pelvis. It seems like he does the same correction every time and I’m not able yet to do the action myself and it’s got to feel like some horrid kind of Sisyphean task, being a yoga teacher to an uneducated unawakened unaware pelvis. I hope he’s seeing at least some kind of progress (for ego’s sake, of course)! 😉

What happened in my first 45-min savasana

I took a restorative yoga workshop from my lovely teacher Avery Kalapa yesterday. And of course I want to gush on and on about it—because it was lovely and Avery is ever so lovely (not to mention how happy I am that I have the great privelege to pay money in order to “just” lie around, cozy, for a full three hours on a delightful Sunday afternoon)—but I can’t just gush and gush on about it, because I have a human mind (surprise surprise) which grabs onto the things that need improving.

The first few poses had me feeling gritchy and agitated (as though it were the fault of the poses 😉 Here’s a somewhat abridged version of the sequence:

supta baddha konasana (supported: three or four blankets, a bolster supporting pelvic rim)

prone twist (flexion bias—bolster, blanket between legs to support my tender little SI joints)

supta sarvangasana (little backbend on bolster to open the upper lungs)

pranayama: ujjayi breath

pranayama: viloma 1

savasana

As we approached the pranayama section of the afternoon, Avery gave us the warnings about how the breath must first be very expansive and free before toying with it through breath work. I was sure I wasn’t ready, but of course eager to try. A difficult position to be in as a beginner: given the responibility to make tough decisions but to be unsure that you’ve the maturity to actually make them. (Or maybe it’s the indecisive vata in me. Or both.)

Anyhow, I have done an almost negligible amount of yoga-informed breath work, and it was so freeing to work with it during the workshop. The remainder of my time in restorative yoga mode felt so much freer after working with ujjayi.

And onto the juiciest bit: the cool shit that happened in my first 45-minute long savasana. Toward the end, as I drifted in and out of this cool realm where I was definitely not asleep, but also afterwards unable to remember anything that Avery had said, something astonishing happened. It was like I was a dipper in deep water: surfacing every once in a while out of this deep expansive place, coming back sparkling.

Avery and other teachers in my teacher training had said that in savasana sometimes you can perceive strange asymmetries in your body. You could feel as though you set yourself up symmetrically at the beginning of the pose, but deep within savasanaland you may feel one arm hovering of toward your head and one was reaching down toward you ankles. They might feel 3 miles long and 500 pounds.

Or they might feel twisted and gnarled like ancient tree roots, like mine did. Even though my palms faced the ceiling, relaxed with the fingers gently curling in toward my palms, it felt as though there was an extreme internal rotation of my arms—that they were twisted in such a way that would be impossible for someone who has…bones.

It was freaky.

But instead of being freaked out by it I tried to remain calm. Ahh, look. Isn’t that interesting? My arms are contorted in such a fashion that I’ve never experienced before. I wonder what that could mean?

But yes, I was still kind of freaked out by it. Once I became aware of the rough woody knobbliness in my limbs, my mind pulled me out of deep watery relaxation, back towards the surface.

I told Avery and Zhenya about it after class. I loved her response. “That means your pranamaya kosha is wack.”

I looked it up. It’s the energy sheath. It goes like this, from the coarsest to most subtle sheaths:

annamaya (body) >
pranamaya (prana/life force) >
manomaya (mind) >
vijnanamaya (knowledge/discernment) >
anandamaya (bliss! The thing that is at our core, always, just waiting to be accessed!)

It was a very cool thing to notice. I’m very interested to observe the next time I lie down for a long savasana. Because as we know it’s always good to be goal-oriented with this stuff. 😉