Saturday, November 16, 2013

Setubandha-a supported backbend

This morning I took Gary's class at IYCD. It was most definitely an All Levels class. From the most beginner to the most seasoned, from 23 years of age to over 75 years young. He handeled the class with grace and ease.

The practice started with simple poses like tadasana, urdvha hastasana, trikonasana. We worked our way to dog, to some abdominal poses and finally to sarvangasana. He looks around the room and realized that not everyone should to it. Gary brought us all around to watch setubandha with the bolster like I have posted below. This is a good alternative for people who may have shoulder, neck, or more rounded shoulders. He stated so simply that doing this pose for 5 minutes a day could radically change your upper back flexibility in a year! So go do it:)
(Thanks Gary for a great class!)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Satya: Truth, Sincerity, genuineness, honesty

Satya is described in Light on the Yoga Sutras as Truth, Sincerity, Genuineness, Honesty.  Sutra II.36 says, "When the sadhaka is firmly established in the practice of truth, his words become so potent that whatever he says comes to realization." I was struck by the last part of the description, " It is not our mind, but the inner voice of our cells which has the power to implement our intentions."

Being truthful and honest has been on my mind lately.  Not only in the literal way, but in how we approach asana.  Last night I was teaching forward bends working up to Paschimottanasana.  It seems like a fairly straightforward pose, but if you have been practicing Iyengar Yoga you know that nothing is as straightforward as it seems.  There are always many layers in preparation to any asana. In any class I teach, I try to go in with a beginners mind.  Remember what it felt like to be doing the pose for the first time.  This is not a hard feat with Pachimottanasana.  It always feels so awkward at first, the gripping of my groins, the tightness of my back, and the creeping sensation of the old hamstring injuries I still fear to this day.  Even in my demo, I stressed the importance of being honest with yourself and where you are at. I showed that at a certain point the spine does not want to cooperate, you have to coax the length by using the hands on the feet, by pulling and encouraging  the spine to go in and forward.   The moral: it's all in the preparation.

Urdvha Hastasana is one of the key poses in preparing for Pschimottansana. The way you use the arms to lift up and out of the pelvis is a perfect way to get the spine going in the right direction. Even in Craig's class Monday night he was teaching some of those same themes.  He mentioned that in Geeta's new Intermediate gudelines she teaches many ways of using Urdvha Hastasana to lengthen the ribs, make space in the spine,  and in general create strength and suppleness in the whole torso when preparing for seated poses like twists and forward extensions.

If you want to get some inspiration on doing Urdvha Hastasana here is a video of John Schumacher teaching it.  Listen to the instructions on the shoulders, they will relate to when you are in any forward bend too!

I will leave you with one last quote from Tree of Yoga by BKS Iyengar
"You have to be completely absorbed, with devotion, dedication, and attention, while performing the pose. There should be honesty in approach and honesty in presentation. When performing a pose, you have to find out whether you body has accepted the challenge of the mind, or whether the mind has accepted the challenge of the body."

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Themes on Urdhva Hastasana

Is there such a thing as Bloggers Block?  It seems that I have had a touch of that in the last month.  Blogging has shrunk down to once every other week.  This morning I had been searching for inspiration in a novel, in the Gita, and even looking back on old journal entries.  I just am not feeling the same excitement that I did in India. Everywhere I looked I found inspiration.  Now, how do I bring that same curiosity and excitement to my everyday......

Ta-Da....Urdhva Hastasana!  Mid-October I started teaching a basics class and I was nervous.  In the past I have not been the best Basics teacher. Students in most of the Basics classes I have taught look bored to tears.

In the first class you are to teach Urdhva Hastasana with the palms forward and facing each other. I ended up teaching it for 15 minutes. After class I thought to myself,  "Wow,  I am really maturing as an Iyengar teacher if I can teach that pose and no one goes to the bathroom during the middle of my demo!"  This pose seems like a very simple one, but that is only to the untrained eye.

My first real introduction to the nuts and bolts of this pose were with Nancy Stechert from Hotchkiss, CO in 2005. I was relatively new to Denver and I was already taking classes at IYCD.  That spring, Nancy was in town to teach a workshop.  I was a little nervous as I did not know many people, but I went anyways.  It was the Friday night session and I swear to you that we held our arms out to the sides and over our heads for at least 30 minutes. I was not sure if I was going to make it. I was sweating,  my arms were burning, but I also had no shoulder or neck pain doing Urdhva Hastasana or the other arm work.  I think I may have also questioned her sanity too.  Couldn't she see I was struggling?  Why was everyone else looking so serene and strong in the pose?  I knew she was the most Senior Teacher in Colorado, so I went with it, trusted her knowledge and I am so happy I did.

While studying for my first assessment in 2009, (which did not go as planned.......but it all worked out in the end!) I was demoing for Lisa Beckwith Wolf in her Monday night Level 1 class.  My job was to stand up front, do the poses to the best of my ability, and try to copy the serene faces I saw back in Nancy's workshop so the class would have a point of reference while Lisa taught and observed. I remember well one of the times that we were doing Urdhva Hastasana and Lisa came over to adjust my arms.  She grabbed my triceps, rolled them in and lifted.  It felt like freedom in my neck and back. 

2 years later in 2011, I was re-taking my Intro 1 exam in Houston, TX.  Robert and I went a day early to get checked into the hotel, relax a little and also go take a class so I could feel out the studio.  It was Thursday night and Constance Braden was the teacher.  Constance welcomed us with open arms to her studio and community.  There were a couple other assessees in class, Robert, myself, and regulars as well. She taught a well-rounded class that of course included the asana in mention,  Urdhva Hastasana!  The way she taught it made me want to do it again and again.  She was encouraging, her instructions clear, and her voice was kind.  At one point she spoke on how everyone should want to do this pose because isn't this the way people look when they win the lottery or are excited about something??  She said you never see someone sad doing this pose!  Throughout the weekend of assessment I would look at her and raise my arms as if to say, "Thank-you Constance for making me love this pose and helping me through this stressful test!"

So why all this talk about Urdhva Hastasana anyways? Well, try the pose yourself.  Raise your arms over your head a few times while taking slow, steady breaths.  Do you become more awake? Does your mind fog begin to lift?  This asana is in itself a gateway to many other poses like Virabhadrasana I, Adho Mukha Svanasana, and Adho Mukha Vkrsasana.  In the Preliminary Guidelines by Geeta, she says that you, "Learn to open the sides of the rib cage.....and Learn the stretching of the arms against the steadiness and firmness of the legs...."  Not only will you feel yourself getting taller and more lifted through the midsection, but your arms will become stronger and you will gain endurance for far more difficult poses.

I guess I don't really have to be in India to feel that same inspiration. Block is gone, inspired once more by the most simplest of yoga asanas.