Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Focus Pose -Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide Stance Forward Fold)

Next up in our sequence are the wide stance forward folds. There are four of them known respectively as A, B, C, and D. The first and the last are done with hands on the floor or fingers grasping the big toe. The middle two are shoulder openers.

So what are we working on here? We are stretching hamstrings, the inner legs and the spine, which translates into the back and shoulders. And by moving in and out of these, we are strengthening the abdominal muscles and the lower back. I love the wide stance forward folds because they feel great on my back.

One of the most common complaints I hear about this set of 4 folds, is people feel lightheaded coming back up. This is not uncommon, and I still experience it. It could be due to low blood pressure, holding the breath, an inner ear imbalance, or something else. If this happens on a regular basis, make a point of following the breath and take extra time and breaths to move into and out of the pose.

As with all the poses I have been breaking down, there are variations in the Ashtanga sequence between the Traditional Form as taught by Pattabhi Jois and Manju Joia and the Contemporary Form as led by David Swenson and Beryl Bender Birch. Again, I am following a contemporary Ashtanga.

I thought about breaking these down individually, but since they are done sequentially, I decided to move through all four at once. I only have a picture for A right now (from yogajournal.com), but it should give you a good feel for what the rest are.

So let's begin. We have just finished Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (revolved side angle pose) and are at the front of our mats:

Prasarita Padottanasana A
From Samasthti at the front of our mats, on and INHALE walk or jump open about 3 feet wide or the distance of one of your legs. Feet should be parallel to eachother or slightly pigeon toed.

EXHALE hands to waist.

INHALE - Optional small backbend. (Some teachers practice this, others omit it. All depends on when, where, and from whom you learned the sequence.)

EXHALE swan dive forward, leading with the heart or throat center. Bring palms to the floor, fingers pointing straight ahead.

INHALE - look up. Lengthen the spine.

EXHALE - forward fold.




**Now a Level 1 - may just stay with hands at the waist, torso parallel to the floor. You may be here if you have exceptionally tight hamstrings or lower back issues.

**A Level 2 may work with hands on the floor, right under the shoulders.

**IN ALL LEVELS, a slight bend in the knees is accepted and encouraged - Especially if you know you hyperextend.

**IF YOUR HEAD HITS THE FLOOR - walk your feet in until your crown just floats off the surface. This will allow your spine to continue to lengthen.

REMAIN FOR 5 BREATHS. DRISTHI = nose or spot behind you.

ALL LEVELS - INHALE LOOK UP.

EXHALE - hands to waist. Take an extra breath here if you know you get light headed. ENGAGE THE LOWER ABDOMEN TO SUPPORT YOUR LOWER BACK!

INHALE - bring yourself to standing.

EXHALE - pause.

INHALE - extend arms wide to the sides.

Prasarita Padottanasana B

EXHALE - hands to the waist. ROTATE THE ELBOWS to face the back of the room, one thumb on each side of the sacrum or spine.

INHALE -(optional backbend).

EXHALE - swan dive forward, leading with the heart or throat center. Elbows continue to move toward the ceiling as the crown of the head moves toward the side of the room (level 1) or toward the floor (level 2).

REMAIN FOR 5 BREATHS. DRISTHI = nose or spot behind you.

ALL LEVELS - INHALE, bring yourself to standing.
ENGAGE THE LOWER ABDOMEN TO SUPPORT YOUR LOWER BACK!

EXHALE - pause.

Prasarita Padottanasana C

INHALE - extend arms wide to the sides.

EXHALE - interlace fingers behind the back. Squeeze the shoulder blades together as you...

INHALE (optional backbend).

EXHALE - swan dive forward, leading with the heart or throat center. Let the arms float of the lower back as they will. Go ahead and wiggle the shoulders a bit to encourage them to open just a bit more.

REMAIN FOR 5 BREATHS. DRISTHI = nose or spot behind you.

ALL LEVELS - INHALE, bring yourself to standing.
ENGAGE THE LOWER ABDOMEN TO SUPPORT YOUR LOWER BACK!

EXHALE - pause. Bring hands to waist.

Prasarita Padottanasana D

INHALE (optional backbend).

EXHALE - swan dive forward, leading with the heart or throat center. As you come down, Level 1, keep hands at waist; level 2 grab your calves; level 3 with two fingers, grab your big toes.

(Picture from yogabasics.com)

INHALE - look up.

EXHALE - crown of the head lengthens as you forward fold.

REMAIN FOR 5 BREATHS. DRISTHI = nose or spot behind you.

ALL LEVELS - INHALE, come up half way,

EXHALE - hands to waist. Take an extra breath here if you know you get light headed. ENGAGE THE LOWER ABDOMEN TO SUPPORT YOUR LOWER BACK!

INHALE - bring yourself to standing.

EXHALE - pause.

INHALE - extend arms wide to the sides.

EXHALE - Samasthti at the front of your mat.



Again, there are nuance differences between different teachers. In fact, I don't think I've ever practiced this the same way in any workshop. The key is to honor that instructors style and to follow your breath.

Namaste!

Monday, February 9, 2009

10 Guidelines: Asteya (non-stealing)


This week I’d like to come back to the Yama’s and Niyama’s. Little things were pulling me in this Yamas and Niyamas. Yoga Journal had an article in February’s issue about them. A fellow yoga teacher mentioned to me that she teaches Ahimsa and Satya to her class at the Y (but noted that the class seems to like Mula Bandha better). And as it is still the beginning of the year, what a better way than to move back into mindful living. I’m going to make it my intent to review one per month. I’m sure I intended to do this originally, but, you know how it goes!
direction. Deborah Adele’s new book came out:

Yamas (or self restraints)
Ahimsa - non-violence
Satya - truthfulness

Asteya - non-stealing
Brahmacharya - walking with the divine/energy moderation
Aparigraha - non-attachment

Niyamas (or observances)
Saucha - cleanliness
Santosa - contentment
Tapas - self discipline
Svadhyaya - self study
Isvara pranidhanani - surrender to the divine.

Asteya - non stealing.

This seems pretty straightforward on the surface. In fact, there is a commandment for this one: Thou Shalt not Steal. But what is the first thing the mind thinks of? Possessions, of course. Material goods. Physical objects.

But Asteya moves beyond the physical to what you can’t see. Ask yourself, in how many ways do you steal from yourself? From friends? Family? Co-workers? As Yoga Journal points out, if you are late, you are stealing someone else’s time. You can steal someone’s happiness.

For example, my Husband is super excited about having a hobby farm. Now, both of us know that this is not practical right now - we don’t have the space, the time or the means. Yet he enjoys researching all the different chicken breeds, the varieties of turkeys, what kind of cows are suitable for our climate, would goats be more practical than sheep. And he enjoys telling me about these. While I am not as enthused about cows or goats or sheep, I have learned (am still learning...) to try and listen to what he has discovered. It makes him happy.

But on the other hand, he is stealing time from himself too, due to the amount of energy he is putting into this vein of research when there are other things that need his attention: homework, broken garage door, his Mothers financial aid paperwork, etc. So Asteya can really be a double edged sword.

Or, how about this example....internet time at work. You’re not working after all. Ooo. Hit close to home on that one, didn’t I?

I loved this suggestion from Yoga Journal: have a Fair Trade mantra: respect the time and energy of others, give credit where credit is due, give - more than you take.

So this is what we will work on for February; Asteya. Try and be truthful (Satya) about where you are stealing from yourself and others.

Namaste!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Pranayama


Pranayama = breathwork. Prana = energy.

I thought I would touch on the energy of the breath this week. Very often in our Western practice, we gloss over the importance of bringing mindfulness to our breath during our practice. It is not uncommon, now that "yoga" has moved into a gym and fitness setting that the focus is purely on the asanas (postures) and how strong we are and how great we look in our very chic yoga cloths. Not that this is a bad thing, but it really distills the essence of what yoga is all about - a union.

From Shambhala Sun, an interview with Phillip Moffitt, Richard Freeman, and Ann Cushman on Sharing the Mat, bringing yoga and Buddhism together plus some additional essays. Richard Freeman is a longtime practitioner and instructor in Ashtanga Yoga.

Phillip Moffitt: To do hatha yoga without pranayama—without working with the breath—would not be practicing full awareness of the body. The breath and the body are entwined and both are reflected in the mind.

Pattabhi Jois noted in Yoga Mala, "Some Pranayama are useful for curing diseases, some for the purification of the nadis, and some for the arrest of the mind. All are important, however, through their practice requires that the preceding step - namely asana, be practiced as well. ...The nature of Pranayama should be known properly and practiced."

Or, to refer to a business class that I once attended, E+R=O. The Event plus your Reaction will equal the Outcome. If you can control your breath, you can control almost anything. Pretty powerful stuff to be teaching business people.

In the Ashtanga practice, Ujjayi is the most common breath practiced - the audible breath made from the slight constriction of the back of the throat to build heat in the body and focus the mind. In a traditional ashtanga practice, nadi shodanam (alternate nostril breathing) may also be practiced at the conclusion of the closing sequence.

A more contemporary practice might bring in (not all at once) kapalabhati breath, bhastrika breath, greater uddiyana (known as a kria - or cleansing breath), as well as nadi shodanam or 2-1 breath (exhales are twice as long as inhales).

But what I think it really boils down to is, just breathe. The tendency in class, or just about any kind of stretching, is to hold the breath. The tendency when we are anxious is to hold our breath or take small little panting breaths - make a conscious effort to lengthen those out. Angry? Step back, leave the room, whatever you need to do and take some long calming breaths. Because as odd as it seemed at the time, that one little equation, E+R=O, is incredibly powerful if we practice it.

"Practice and all is coming." Pattabhi Jois.