Posts Tagged ‘the poses of yoga’
Desk Jockey Spine Straightening, 1
A friend, John, asked me over the weekend what to do about the pain in his low back. This happens often, because so many people have back pain. John’s problems come from years of sitting slouched in school and work chairs. And all the other chairs. Different from Angela’s back, John’s back is seized up and tight in his quadratus lumborum, which is extremely common for guys.
Following are literally the A, B, and C of the problem, and the two things John can do — five minutes a day! — to alleviate or remove the pain in his back.
A: The low back and butt have become one. The above-mentioned quadratus muscles become weak and tight, and as they are the hamstrings of the back, they tighten all the way to the backs of the knees. Think of how you look sitting in a chair (better yet, feel it).
B: The low belly and inner groins are dropping away from the spine. Everyone who owns a chair deals with this. The belly organs need to lift away from the pelvis via the abdominals and better action in the thigh bones: We need to stand through the pelvis, on the legs. What we do today is collapse into the pelvis and on to — almost all of us.
C. The outer hips/thighs grip to try and bring the belly and groins back in. This area is also to a degree an extension of the low back and butt. However, the body is very intelligent as it seeks to solve its own problems before it tries to get your attention. In this case, the outer hips/thighs are gripping in an attempt to make the abdominals engage so that the belly and groins move back into the body.
All desk jockeys need to do #1 and #2 to lengthen their spine and feel better in their back and posture overall. Five minutes a day, with conscious breathing, and a regular class with a well-educated yoga teacher is all it takes.
your work is here
I was in my weekly yoga class yesterday, sitting in a long seated forward fold, pascimottanasana. My teacher walked up behind me and said, “See, now here’s where your work is. Your work is here.” And she touched my back in three places, which I have expertly drawn for you in the picture below.
Specifically, she was referring to the center of my shoulder blades, to the middle of my thoracic spine (the circle), and to several muscles on the back-side body (the lines that the two arrows are pointing to).
She said, “You need you open the spine here (at the circle) with less effort here (where the lines are).”
Her touch, and her insight, had an immediate effect not just on my pose but on my awareness. I was instantly aware of space in the circle and relaxation where those lines are. And so my forward fold deepened. Literally, those simple actions deepened the fold at my hip creases, and further forward I went.
I tend to believe that all specific actions in one pose can be layered into all poses — this is how an asana practice advances. Instead of focusing on one thing or another, it becomes a matter of emphasis depending on what shape you are trying to make. So while, for the rest of the class, we didn’t do a whole lot more forward folding, I still focused on these places in my body and noticed what else gave way.
I feel lucky, because a) my teacher has practiced yoga for more than 20 years, and b) this commitment to the practice empowers her greatly in the art and science of seeing bodies as she saw mine. I strongly encourage you as a yoga student to want this perception from your teachers. Most highly trained yoga teachers spend thousands of hours a year turning their inner eyes to their own bodies so that they can see the truth in yours.
It’s insights like this that will transform your practice — and it’s a transformed practice that transforms your life.
i’ve just finished reading the last of boundless’s 2007-8 boundless teacher training papers, which is a requirement for graduation. omg love them! i asked the trainees first to take one page to define yoga — to put this vast word into a few paragraphs that would then serve a their thesis for the paper. here’s what one trainee wrote on p. 1:
in the modern western world, the understanding of what yoga is and how it is practiced in the mainstream has been reduced to one limb — asana. facilitated by the reductionist principles of western medicine and the fitness movement, with its focus on the physical well-being of the body separate from the emotional, mental, and spiritual body, asana has been extracted from a whole and has come to represent what was intended to be a multidimensional philosophy.
this student goes on to pose the following questions for her paper:
How does this extraction of asana and reduction of yoga affect the efficacy of the practice in stilling the modifications of the mind? What are the benefits and the possible harm induced by only practicing asana? What happens if you practice yoga with selfish or misguided intent? Do you create karma for yourself as you would if you gave to charity based on self interest? does the simple act of aligning the body and increasing your awareness and concentration make you more open to learning and seeing the world through clearer eyes? By allowing the body to function at a healthier leavel, do the mind and the heart function at a healthier level? What can a modern mainstream yogi achieve by knowing only a small part of a holistic system intended to offer a path for the balanced and healthy physical, physiological, emotional, and spiritual existence?
clearly a lot!
in savasana, there is an excellent opportunity to navel gaze. imagine your thighs–and indeed the bones of the thighs and legs–dropping toward the ground to such a degree that the tops of the thighs feel flat and smooth.
or at least like rolling hills. calm, rolling rounds of earth.
give in, push back
yogis invented poses to keep the mind occupied on its way to establishing a “seat,” or the seated poses of meditation. many practitioners find that once they’ve been doing yoga a while, certain poses begin to look and feel like each other, to have a similar resonance (in the breath, emotions, or mind). this is the harmony found in a regular yoga practice.
what we also find when starting yoga asana is the there is just as much need to give in as there is to push back. when, for example, you are straining in a seated forward fold, it’s probably a good idea to give in to your resistance to the fact that you are where you are. when, on the other hand, you are feeing fatigued in a standing pose and just want to give up, in most cases it’s a good idea to push right back at the desire to stop.
this, the practice of hatha yoga: it is to define something and immediately consider the role of its opposite in your mind. this consideration can only be manifested through the bodily experience (not least because you are in a pose at that time!). as it is, we find that we are always on the razor’s edge of experience, standing gracefully and steadily on the line of our own consciousness.
the in of sane
i want to clarify the term hatha yoga. According to Wikipedia and other sources i’ve studied, hatha yoga is not as old as yoga “proper;” hatha yoga showed up in the 15th century, because a guy named Swami Swatmarama wanted to give practitioners (sadhakas) a clearer path to the “heights of raja yoga.” raja yoga is, simply, the yoga that emerges through behavior observances, body/breath practices, and several stages of meditation.
this brings me to something Einstein said:
insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
the issue with today’s hatha yoga, especially the part influenced by vinyasa yoga (a more modern version of hatha characterized by repetitive, faster-paced movements linked to the breath), is that it can be too rote.
hatha yoga, like yoga itself, is a living, breathing, ever-changing reflection of the mind that studies it. we can call this mind “your” mind, “my” mind, or even the “collective” mind. whatever the definition of mind, it’s important to know that expecting the same result from your yoga class (i always feel so good after class! my hamstrings are always so strethed!), is missing the point of “ha” (sun) and “ta” (moon), hatha.
practice, of course, is always and only up to the practitioner. and the breath, which underlies the practice no matter what its form, is never, ever the same. back to einstein’s statement, we could, then, conclude the breath is the sanest thing around.
when a tree falls in a classroom
i was teaching a client this pose on friday, and he was doing a great job: balanced, focused, and only slightly wobbly.
right at the moment i uttered a few words like “nice job!” he fell out of the pose. like many students doing this pose, he laughed as he fell out. then he said, “you know, at that moment i felt balanced and unbalanced at the same time, kind of like zero-gravity.”
two things i took from this:
1) i love how students laugh when they are falling out of this pose. different from so many other poses, it’s pretty obvious that you are simulating something you’re not, and you’re “pretending” to be still like a tree when you feel anything but.
2) the moment just before falling out of tree is the moment we’re all practicing for. it’s that sensation of having harnessed gravity only to feel light.
like all animals, humans conform to the environments they live in. specifically, we conform to this shape
more than any other in our lives. it’s very likely that you are in this shape more hours than you walk or sleep combined.
that’s where yoga postures come in. the iyengar method of yoga practice pays a lot of attention to detail, and the more advanced you get, the more it suggests you drop into this pose
from a standing position. since we know that for every action there is an equal and opposite one, we could say that wheel pose, or urdhva dhanurasana, creates a shape opposite to hold ourselves most of the time outside of yoga class.
and since yoga and other mind-stilling practice are rooted in the concept of the middle path of balance, this pose looks like a nice, yogic way to reach mind/body balance.
there are a lot of other poses to create openness in the chest and abdomen like wheel pose does. ask your yoga teacher this week about these poses.
when you take on a pose
paying attention to your alignment when doing yoga postures makes sense in the same way it makes sense to feel and be quiet when are walking through the woods. if you grow still enough to notice the sounds and movements around you in nature, you find yourself able to take in all kinds of data that come in as neither overwhelming nor stressful.
When you are in a yoga class, listen to your teacher as well as the sounds of your breath. notice the look of your arm upraised in warrior 1, or the toes in seated forward fold. the more you allow yourself to take in these details as though you were part of them — like they are in and of your world, just as the trees and the ground and the bushes in the woods — the more you notice. and the more you steady yourself into relaxing.
relaxing into the world around you requires a relaxation from within. we have yoga postures in order to measure and observe our daily ability to take in that world. it’s a process, and you learn (and get better at it) only by practicing.
yoga and the spine
yesterday, after a restorative class i’d taught her, a client of mine said,
huh, that’s interesting. so restorative yoga is mostly about bending the spine this way and that way, in order to release it.
she was sitting when she said this. when she said “this way” she bent forward; when she said “that way,” she bent backward.
it was a simple moment after a simple practice. What struck me, though, was not that her observation is mostly correct–restorative yoga requires the practitioner to hold poses for long periods of time in order release through the spine in several directions. what struck me was the point my client was making about all yoga poses. the point of yoga is always to release energy through the spine. that’s what makes an asana (pose) different from just about any other practice you could engage in.
one of the markers of the west is its emphasis on the superficial. yoga, by definition, is intended to take us away from that superficiality into deeper levels of consciousness–through the unwinding of the spine. each pose has been designed over thousands of years to enable us to examine the steadiness and ease in each posture–so that we can examine the stillness, or lack thereof, in our own minds.
and thus, we engage in practice. even one of the most demanding poses you could imagine:
is meant to release energy through the spine for the same purpose as the most relaxed you could imagine:
this is what we are learning in a yoga class– how to be steady and easy no matter what the “pose.”