Category Archives: Asana

About asanas or yoga postures

Back to Iyengar

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A very english yogi has just returned from a great Iyengar class run by Nicky Wright, in Barrowford, Lancashire.   

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You can find more information about Nicky’s classes here.

The yogi started practicising Iyengar’s unique and some would say it is probably one of the most authentic styles of yoga about twenty years ago,  and on and off over the years. 

What he likes about Iyengar is the focus on alignment and form. It’s a perfect style to discipline the body and get it working along the right lines – literally – given the focus on alignment.

Lancashire yoga enthusiasts are so lucky to have a range of skilled, enthusiastic and friendly teachers, and the ‘Yogi is getting to experience many of these. 

If you are in East Lancashire you can attend classes by going to the British Wheel of Yoga website: here: www.bwy.org.uk and go to the section ‘find a local teacher’. 

In East Lancashire the Yogi recommends Kit Hartley and Rose Mary Board and tonight was very impressed with Iyengar teacher Nicky Wright

Iyengar’s classic book – Light on Yoga – has been supplemented by a number of beautiful books including Light on Pranyama and Light on Life (see picture). The ‘Yogi recommends them all. 

The beauty of Iyengar practice with its emphasis on support (blocks, bricks, belts, etc) as well as alignment is that folk can start practising yoga with support and they can gently build up to full postures without fear of injury or feeling self-concious. 

Namaste

On the mat and off the mat

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on&off the matA very english yogi spends a lot of his time “on the mat”. It’s called yoga practice and consists of asana, pranayama, mudra, mantra and meditation. You can find a list of the stuff that the ‘yogi gets up to on the mat here.

But in reality when the ‘yogi adds up the minutes and hours of his days, he finds that the majority of his life is spent ‘off the mat’.

This can be at work, or with his family or friends. The permutation of peoples and places that the ‘yogi can find himself in includes, in the car, at a desk, on a computer, in a meeting with others, in the garden, cooking, reading, making or playing music, walking, designing and writing and all sorts of other places and things.

Practice on the mat is fairly straightforward. Typically the ‘yogi is alone, with just asana and other practices to work through.  He can follow the teachers who have taught or influenced him through the postures and practices. It’s good to find a space and a time to practice postures and meditate as well as all the other stuff like mantra and pranayama.

After a morning practice though, a very english yogi spruces up and goes out to meet the world in all its guises.  This is where the real practice starts.

The trick is to bring the practices, knowledge and experiences ‘on the mat’ along with you.  There’s no doubt about it: it’s hard though. 

Off the mat, the ‘yoga finds that the asanas – the postures help him feel good, flexible, healthy, and happy. But it’s the mindstuff that really helps him get through a day without causing too much damage to himself or others.

A few guiding principles help:

1) whatever it is, it will pass: the world will move on and you’ll look back and wonder what all the fuss was about.

2) people (and all living beings) are precious and special: our job is to help everyone and every creature to a place where they are happy and fulfilled.

3) everything is ripe with opportunity: you can choose to make that opportunity positive or negative, fulfilling or unfulfilling.  It is your choice. Don’t forget that.

4) compassion and love are the spice that makes the dish tastier.

5) it’s all just a projection of your own mind stuff: past, present and future.

There are loads of guiding principles and techniques. The one that the ‘yogi loves most at the moment is a work called Peacock in the Poison Grove. If you search for it online you’ll probably find it. It’s a centuries old toolkit for managing your mind and your life. 

Either way, if you are practicising ‘on the mat’ – remember that the practice continues ‘off the mat’.  Infact, that is where the learning and growth really starts.

Namaste

x

Easy does it….

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Every so often, a very english yogi  comes screeching to a halt to avoid hitting a stone wall.  stone wallHe never crashes into the stone wall; just stops in front of it and pauses for thought. There are a lot very english dry stone walls around the place. They provide margins and borders to the scattered fields, woodlands and valleys around the ‘yogi’s home.

Actually, the ‘yogi isn’t talking about stone walls outside his house; he’s talking about inner walls – mind walls if you like. And they are no different to the dry stone walls outside. The ‘yogi still screeches to a halt in his mind when he comes up against one and still stops to pause and think things through.

Recently, a very english yogi was asked to consider developing a posture profile on the asana Dwi Pada Pitham.  This posture is also known as the two legged table pose. It’s a precursor to the Setu Bandhasana (bridge pose).  It’s sort of a baby version of bridge.

The ‘yogi really struggled mentally with this posture profile. I think that this was because I regarded it as an insignificant asana, in that for me (who loves strong postures which are rich in symbolism and gesture) it wasn’t powerful, strong or rich in symbolism and gesture. For example I typically love working in asanas such as trikonasana, virabhasana, natarajasana, matsyendrasana – all expansive, symbolic, and richly gestural asanasa, involving all the body and encouraging for me,  deep meditation and awareness. Because I am drawn to wildness of posture and real bodily movement and because kinaesthetically I love the physicality of the postures – Dwi Pada Pitham seemed so insignificant and as a result I wasn’t drawn to it.

When I searched for references in classical literature as much as modern texts, the lack of references suggested to me that others think similarly; and as a result I think I became biased against it. As a result I really had to push myself to explore it both theoretically and practically.

My bias and resistance against a seemingly simple posture was my “dry stone wall”.

When you come up against such barriers – the important thing is to work with the edge of your resistance, and use your energy to transform the feeling and the moment.  Ironically by pushing myself and really getting to grips with the posture in theory and practice, I begun to see the value of this seemingly insignificant and rather gentle asana.   The vinyasa of the moment – you can see it here – encouraged me to focus on breathing in movement and posture, and for me although I am considered a quiet, reflective and quite a slow person – I tend towards wildness and activity – people are fooled: a very english yogi is as mad as Milarepa (ok not so mad!).  So it was interesting to be slowed down and grounded by this posture and this movement. 

I tend to find the quieter poses a challenge because I think I need to be energised to feel alive.  Dwi Pada Pitham was a good compromise – it was posture and movement (the vinyasa) but at the same time it was calming and grounding. Perhaps the vinyasa worked to calm and ground me more than, say, savasana (corpse pose) as when my body is so still, the mind kicks off on its monkey like swinging from tree to tree.

For this very english yogi  the lesson was – don’t be fooled or dismiss the seemingly “easy” postures – their gentle easiness can powerfully help you in ways that can sometimes take you by surprise.  Easy does it…..

Namaste

Seeing the wood and the trees

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“You can’t see the wood for the trees”  is a wonderful and very english phrase which suggests to folk that they are bogged down in the details treesand can’t see beyond them to the greater whole.

But focusing on the details like the trees, is as important as understanding your place in the wood.  You need to see the detail to understand the whole, and the whole is only such because of the detail.

To experience the strength of this saying, it’s advisable to be lost in a wood, with hundreds of trees around you.  There appears to be no way out of the wood let alone an awareness that you are even in a wood in the first place. The trees can be overwhelming. 

Yoga practice is often a bit like this – you start of in an asana – down ward facing dog,  say – and every element of the pose calls for your attention.  Your hamstrings remind you they are there, your hands need to be evenly spaced, can you gently bring the soles of your feet to meet the floor or are you happier raised up on the balls of your feet? Is your stomach drawn in towards your spine, or is gravity allowing it to sag downwards. Are your arms feeling the weight and wobbling? Are you breathing or holding your breath? Are you looking at your toenails wondering if you should have cut them, or considering the alignment of your spine between your shoulders and your hips?

All the individual parts of the pose all requiring some attention. And often what happens is that you focus on the position of your hands and you find your stomach starts to sag, or you ease your feet to meet the floor and your hamstrings plead for bent legs.

Eventually, in every posture, something magical happens. You get a sense of the whole posture and everything feels connected and inter-related. Suddenly you realise that you are in the posture as a whole: complete and integrated.  Some pundits suggest that this is a process of awareness – that you start off in any learning, being unconcious of your incompetence, and then gradually, through experience,  and learning you go from there to unconcious incompetence to concious incompetence, then to concious competence – finally arriving at unconcious competence.  It’s a compelling model and has a place in the pantheon of learning about learning.  This model may help you later when you are reflecting on your experience, but in the moment when you are lost in the wood, or faffing on the mat, it may not be that helpful. 

The trick is to experience every element of the posture, in every detail; and then integrate and connect it into the whole.

Next time someone suggests that you can’t see the wood for the trees, perhaps you could retort that this may be so, but given time you’ll see the trees and the wood.

It’s like someone has switched on the light”

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Nothing but a burning lightEvery so often I bump into an old pal who, after the usual pleasantries and catchups, asks: “what is this yoga thing all about then?”

Being a very english yogi, for fear of putting them off, or appearing some how brash or a braggart, I politely don’t rush into the wide range of benefits or details about how yoga can make you more flexible (in body and mind), how it is relaxing and can help you become calmer, or how it can strengthen your muscles, or improve your balance. I would rather someone found this out for themselves, rather than taking my word for it. Experience, in this regard,  is a far superior teacher.

I also tend to hold back on how it can help make you a better person – easier to be with,  more understanding , less competitive and more compassionate.  Again, this is evident from experience, for example,  from comments or feedback from family, friends and colleagues.

The semi-scientist in me, eager for evidence,  pauses long and hard before I mention that it can help with weight loss, aid insomnia, and can ease anxiety and help depression. I would much rather have the research papers to hand as well as the researchers and scientists who can explain the objective results better than I.

So, while I am mulling over all these points and mentally trying to draw them together in a digestable form, I find myself answering in the only way that an english yogi can, when put on the spot in a high street in a country town in england in the 21st Century.

I say that  for me, doing yoga makes me feel as if someone has switched on the light, and as a result, the circuits are running smoothly; with the energy pulsing around my system.  I feel alive and energised. It adds a zing and a zest to my life like nothing else.  However like any power system you have to be careful, and take it easy, but if you require a readily available, as well as a steady source of energy – then that is what “yoga is all about”.   

If my pal is still interested in finding out more – I point him or her in the direction of the British Wheel of Yoga – www.bwy.org.uk where you can find classes in your local area, if you are in England.  If he or she wishes try some simple postures – I usually suggest the tadasana and corpse pose and some simple breath observation

Every so often, I see a pal in a class, or I get a call from them, for more information – which I freely give.

I usually ask:  “how’s it going?” – and usually get the reply: “you know what? I certainly feel more relaxed, and have more energy”. And that experience is usually the best evidence there is.

Namaste x

Vasistha in a cold climate

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Days are getting shorter in Lancashire. It’s winter and the Solstice is almost upon us. For those who want to know when the Solstice is – it’s on the 21st December. And Lancashire Yogi is really excited. It’s the end of the days shortening: those cold dark days which appear to be more night than day. And it’s the beginning of the days becoming longer, lighter and slowly but surely…warmer.

‘Lancashire is ordering seeds on these dark nights, and the leaves are being swept up into the chicken wire coop that will ensure a nice crumbly leaf mould for the next year.  Of course, Lancashire Yogi leaves piles of leaves for the hedgehogs to burrow down into.

winter sun

These dark, cold mornings and dark cold evenings make the effort to practice yoga asana a real challenge.  Sometimes it’s just a reading session wrapped in a blanket; sometimes it’s the usual morning practices.

On these dark and cold mornings and evenings, Lancashire Yogi is re-reading Vasistha’s Yoga. It’s an interesting book. Some say that just by reading it you are likely to become enlightened. But Lancashire Yogi likes the story. It’s about a disheartened yogi who is disillusioned with life because he’s realised it’s all an illusion. And if it’s all an illusion – what can or should he even bother with?

It’s a good question: and Lancashire Yogi is spending his morning and evening’s reading the book to get to the crunch point. He’ll keep you posted. 

Namaste

x

Learning from trees

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Vrksasan

How can you possibly learn from trees?

Lancashire Yogi thinks that they are great teachers. And now, at this time of the year, without their leaves,  they are looking very sparse with their bare branches and the glaze from the early morning ice making them shine like glass ware in the bright winter sun.

The yogis obviously did think that you could learn from trees. After all they created an asana – that we call ‘Tree Pose’ and that is called Vrksasana.  It’s a great pose that calls us to our centre and helps us find our sense of balance. Lancashire Yogi loves this pose. 

You start in tadasana.  Lancashire Yogi writes about this pose here: http://lancashireyogi.com/2012/03/27/still-standing-still/

When you have found your sense of rootedness to the ground, and your centre in this position, choose which leg you feel comfortable raising.  Once decided, move your weight gently onto the leg that will stay standing, and staying rooted to the floor with the foot of that leg,   bend the knee you wish to raise.  Then, reach down with the hand on that side and hold your ankle.

 Bring your foot up and gently place the sole of the foot against the inner thigh of the oppose leg.  If you can, it is suggested that you should gently press the  heel of the foot  into the groin, with the toes of that foot pointing towards the ground.   Your pelvis should be aligned with the standing foot to provide balance.  You can place your hands on your hips. This helps to ensure that your pelvis is in a neutral position – not pushing forward or tilting back.  

Once in position, gently press the sole of the foot against the standing leg’s thigh and gently resist this with the standing leg. 

You can keep your hands rested at your hips, or you can raise your arms and bring the palms of your hands together at chest level – typically around your sternum or centre of your chest – in the prayer mudra – known as Anjali.  At this point many individuals stop and stay in this balance. 

Lancashire Yogi finds that a couple of tips can help: 

(1) Think: “up” – imagining a thread pulling the crown of your head up and your body being eased up like a puppet or marrionette.

(2) Breathe. It’s easily forgotten; but absolutely vital. If you are holding your breath, and your face is glowing red as if you are about to explode: you are probably also swaying vigorously like a tree in a gale. So breathe deep and easy.

(3) Focus. Focus on a spot on the floor about 3 – 4 feet in front of you. This helps you focus more generally and zone out the monkey mind thoughts that also seem to help us sway like a tree – or perhaps swing from branch to branch like a monkey in the tree.

(4) Don’t worry. If you are swaying like a tree or wobbling like a weeble. Don’t worry. It’s a useful sign that you need to think up, breathe and focus. And more importantly it’s a sign that you might want to enjoy and have fun, rather than get all angst ridden or competitive or embarrased. Remember also that “weebles wobble; but they don’t fall down” – so try not to get into a battle with yourself which ends with you doing falling on the floor legs in the air yoga – ouch!

Some folk decide to go a bit further and raise both arms up above their head and  keep the arms, with palms facing each other, and arms straight past either side of the head and ears.  Some folk go a bit further and bring the palms together in the anjali mudra above their head.  Find where you feel comfortable and work with this. Don’t strain, and don’t try something that feels uncomfortable. And as Kit Hartley –  ‘Lancashire’s Yoga Teacher always says:  “breathe”.

You could stay in this posture for any time – but typically up to a minute or so is fine. Again, don’t strain. Find your limit and work within this or to it’s edge.  Build up to it,  rather than fall down too.  When you have finished, return back to Tadasana breathing out, and then repeat this for the opposite leg. 

Walking in Ennerdale, Lancashire Yogi spotted four trees on the brow of a fell, silhouetted against the bright blue sky, like four fell walkers strolling up the hill. It got him thinking – apart from the posture – what else can trees teach us?

If you look closely at the picture of the four trees on the hill – you’ll see that they are all bending in one direction.  A major lesson that trees have given Lancashire Yogi is that it’s best to bend with the wind rather than fight it.  He also thinks that its as important to have strong roots which give stability, as it is to have branches which offer shade. 

Namaste

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