Sharath Jois in Copenhagen…

Lovely vid of Sharath in Copenhagen. Wish I were there…

vid by Alessandro Sigismondi.

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Lessons of a Yogini

Lessons of a Yogini

The body is a funny thing. Every day is different. Last year I was able to almost reach the ground: about 2 inches to go. Then all of a sudden I was unable to get low at all. My inner thigh muscles were excruciatingly tight. No warning. Nothing. They just didn’t want to play anymore.

My first reaction was – sadness – not anger. I was sad because “I’ve worked so hard…” etc. I was sad because I have the type of body that snaps back and sometimes can’t do things I suppose a ‘normal’ body can – or what we think a normal body can – it snaps back and I basically have to start pretty close to the beginning again. I was sad because when you get to a certain stage in your practice there’s a kind of flow that allows for that elusive sensation of freedom in the body which can be viscerally experienced and I lost that – at least I thought I had. I still feel it – even when I’m tight and my body seems uncooperative.

As I get older, I’ve realized a few things:

That this is really as far as I can go – physically. There are postures that I will never be able to do “successfully” – whatever that means.

That I know my body so well, that I can feel the small changes in my body which can be very satisfying, and therefore I work very smart these days.

And that what I was chasing in my early years of practice are not important anymore. Oh that doesn’t stop me from working postures to the point of a good sweat or at least feeling satisfied with my efforts. But that pendulum swing back and forth of emotions about what my body looks like in the posture does not equal my efforts doesn’t drive me.

I am grateful for all those years of effort though. The wish to be the best teacher drove me to really get to know postural yoga in a different way. In a way that was about asking the question: When I do postures, what makes it an aspect of YOGA? How am I expressing YOGA in an ‘imperfect’ body? Perseverance, courage and humility are the foundations of practice – am I expressing those? What is the difference between:

perseverance and greediness?

courage and ignorance?

humility and self-consciousness?

With those questions and more inspiration I became very attuned to my body, mind and spirit.

Back to the task of practice: it is more now about practicing and working on things as a matter-of-course rather than trying to get somewhere…fast.

So with the help of a combination of postures in my practice – including some unconventional ones like squatting sideways, with warrior twos and side angle, some seated and lying down hip openers. Now with a few months work I am slowly making my way down again. First time in months I am able to place my chest on the floor.

I am very content with my body and my practice these days. There is a certain amount of calm. That I suppose is what it means to really do YOGA.

Peace!

What is the Difference Between: Trikonasana and Parsvakonasana

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I have come across blogs and pictures which name these two postures the same. I think it is important to use the correct names because they are very different postures and work on the body differently. (I am concerned with the Krishnamacharya lineage -not the ghosh lineage. The ghosh lineage diverges from the names of the postures completely so there is some confusion)

During my years of practice, these two postures gave me a lot of trouble (honestly all of them did). But Trikonasana pulled on my back to distraction and I could not reach far down with my hand.

Until I really learned what was the important focus in Triangle and how to MOVE INTO it, I was doomed to misunderstand it. Until I learned to slowly go in it (over days not seconds of practice) and in my own time (years of practice), I was constantly uncomfortable.

The key was to move slowly and to stop when I felt the pull too strongly then I knew I was in the posture to the best of my body’s ability. Working from the hips rather than the head or hand really helped me understand that to open into this posture was to allow my own hips and legs to let go of one another. How did I do that? Move slowly, work from the movement of the hips on top of the straight leg and then things slowly started to release. Soon I was able to reach my fingers close to the floor – although that is still not my focus (nor is it the posture’s focus).

Parsvakonasana was a different experience entirely. My hips needed to slowly release the top of my thighs in order to essentially squat into the posture and be able to lay my torso over the bent leg, open up, and reach my arm overhead. It was the same focus however – work from the hips as if I were squatting down and the back leg strong. The hand was the least of my worries – and so it should be. With a combination of hip openers, patience and practice, I finally was able to feel what this posture was all about.

While these two postures ask the same from you – the hip and leg muscle relationships are different because of the either the straight leg or bent knee. As well, you can see that the lower body and upper body relationship is quite different. In Trikonasana, the upper body is at 90° (in full posture) from the lower body, and Parsvakonasana the upper body is essentially in alignment with the lower body. This difference alone changes your bodies dynamic in each posture.

When doing each of these postures, they need to be understood each on their own terms because they are different.

I think the problem comes when the hand on the floor or close to it becomes the focus – which it is not. It is bad teaching when that becomes the goal. The fingers or hand need not  reach the floor (at least not yet).

Truly to do each posture to your best ability the key in each is whether the front leg is straight or bent.

In Trikonasana – the front leg stays straight. Do not compromise yourself or the posture by bending the front knee. If you can not bring the torso down like in all the pictures (who can) just give yourself time. Take your time by focusing on the hip movement. It’ll move – just give it time!  And I mean real time – not 30 seconds or 5 breaths. Take it slow through days weeks months. Keep practicing.

If in Parsvakonasana you can’t reach the hand down – not to worry. Work with the focus of squatting down into the the bent knee’s hip and work from there.

Let’s Review:

How you can tell the difference between Trikonasana (Triangle) and Parsvakonasana (side-angle) in simple easy to see terms:

Trikonasana – front leg is Straightback foot toes pointing out to the side (mainly); front hand is usually along side inner shin, fingers extending, palm open or sometimes grabbing the toe; top arm extended straight up.

Parsvakonasana – front leg is Bent 90°; back foot is turned in 45°; hand is on the floor (usually); top arm extended over ear.

This is to help you Recognize these postures. This is Not meant to be Instructional – although it can be when you’re want it.

The Difference between Sukhasana, Siddhasana, Padmasana

Traditional meditation cross legged sitting postures. The most done and most traditional used all over the world is: Sukhasana. The next is Siddhasana. And only rarely, Padmasana.


sukhasana
siddhasana3 SAMSUNG

 

Sukansana – sitting “easy cross legged” pose.

This is “easy” because it is simply sitting cross legged.

Siddhasana – sitting with toes tucked into thighs or set the feet side by side keeping the knees wide.

Siddhasana is a little more difficult than Sukasana and is a cross legged pose where you tuck your feet into your thighs (between thighs and calves specifically), or lay your feet side by side (on the floor in front of you) keeping the knees wide: a wide kneed pose. Which means that it can only be done when the hips are more open, and it can help open the hips even more than simply sitting cross legged.

Padmasana – sitting with feet on top of thighs tucked close to hips

Padmasana or lotus pose is the most difficult of the seated “meditation” poses. It is done by tucking the feet up on top of the thighs and close to the hips: a closed knee pose. Which means that the knees are closer together and can be done when the hips are much more open than the other two. It is not easy to get into and takes a great deal of practice to make sure the knees are protected.

These are important distinctions. All three are available to use – but please practice especially the last two, with a GOOD teacher – one who knows the difference between the three poses.

Once you practice all three poses, the differences and the benefits of each will become clear.

Please keep yoga asana names and terms correct.

Peace!

Yoga Needs No Embellishment

Yoga Needs No Embellishment

This photo is all about admiring yoga (postures) or at least the body that’s doing them. The photographer states: I think yoga is beautiful.

What a revelation!

Superficial Understanding of Yoga
My only question is: if these same (there are a few pictures) Yoga Asana would be performed on dank dark piss filled corners of the city and by ugly people if you’d still think it was beautiful?

This is an important distinction, because if you think of yoga (asana) as pictures of beautiful people/bodies wearing beautiful clothing doing the pose (beautifully) on a beach or a mountain top or some lovely place then you’ve misconstrued the true beauty of yoga. If you can not appreciate it for what it is in your own body, heart and mind then you have not deepened your understanding. This is not yoga you are seeing (it looks like it because of the poses), but it is more like the sugar coating of your own missed understanding of yoga which remains superficial.

Seeing the Difference
It is in my mind vital that we distinguish between our own need to flaunt and perform not only our expression of our bodies but also our hearts in this way that is about – the look-at-me-approval train, and to perform a sincere practice where you get sweaty, breathe hard, falter in a posture, make faces without knowing it, and get injured sometimes. Yoga’s beauty emerges from the inside as we have good practice days and not so good. As we take Yoga out onto the street and respond within our capabilities as a human who practices yoga every other day.

Yoga expresses itself more subtly and more privately. It is not as conspicuous as when it is staged with all this stuff and noise around.

What are you hiding from?
I wonder from what you are hiding. Is it your own pain? Pain of realization that you might never do a yoga posture perfectly (only an issue of performance), or pain of your body which never goes away, or the pain of realization that to deepen your practice and heart, you must forego the ego’s insistence to be admired. What is it then?

Yoga is Beautiful and Ugly, Painful and Freeing…
Yoga needs no embellishment like how this photographer (and many others! Self portraits – you know who you are) presents it here. There is no there there in the expression, just performance and staging. Try not to stage it next time. Watch it unfold and look for it below the surface. If you’re looking for the beauty, you’ll find a gold mine!

Photo by: Robert Sturman

Yoga Asana Practice in LA

20130114_14122620130114_144358 20130114_144304 20130115_142909Yoga Asana Practice in LA

I get up. I shower. I put my yoga gear on. I stand on my mat. I greet the day. I practice. My mat is already set out. There is no thought behind it. I just get on my mat as I would sit at my computer, sit in front of the tv, or wash the dishes. My practice is difficult today. I breath and move through it. I don’t go to studios anymore. I believe it is good to do my practice on my own. After years of practice, it comes naturally. My favorite part: sitting at the front of my mat and greet the universe.

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Asana practice: Urdhva Dhanurasana

Asana practice:  Urdhva Dhanurasana

Yes. It has always perplexed me – Urdhva Dhanurasana. Even as I take the pose it is not very comfortable for me. I don’t feel ease and I can’t stay in it long. It took me years of concerted and sincere practice to even get me here.

I never learned from someone who could do this posture well. They are the kind of teacher who can’t believe you can’t do it. You know the teacher that says, just do this, or that, and they think it’s that easy. I had one teacher give up on me. That didn’t feel good.

So I took what I knew – by that time 20 years of practice, and started to practice on my own (doing it for 12 years now), and didn’t rely on a teacher to see me through. What I learned about my body: what it could do when I moved into things the way that it needed to, was a real eye opener. I learned a lot and my body opened up considerably after in the years that I’ve been teaching myself. I always told my students that the people with the most difficulty in postures are the lucky ones. We are the ones that really feel our bodies open and change and even tighten up again. We learn that there is an ebb and flow.

So it taught me that for me, Urdhva Danurasana was always going to be a challenge and the things like Kapostasana, might not ever come. But it doesn’t mean I don’t venture into that realm of back bends – I keep practicing. There are days when I can feel what it’s all about. And then the next day it’s gone. I accept that about my body and that’s what yoga’s all about. Isn’t it?

So absolutely go slow. Ease into it. But most importantly – move as if there was no where to go. No goal in sight. Just keep expressing the energy of back bend, or forward bend, or inversion, or any other type of posture you’re doing. Doesn’t matter if it ‘looks’ like you are in the posture perfectly, it matters how deeply you can go into the feeling of the energy of the posture.

 

Ask me about anything: If you’re struggling with any posture including backbends, send me a note. I’d be glad to assist.