Sunday, 26 February 2012

When is it the right time to begin second series?

So my teacher James said I should start the intermediate series next week. I panicked a little as I can't even jump back properly (when I say properly, I guess i mean 'float' back) and still cannot jump through with straight legs (I can do crossed legs now).

I'd been held back for over a year with knee pain, knee clicking etc. but once it seemed to have got a lot better (they're not perfect and don't think they ever will be)  my practice has just taken off! Thinking about what I've achieved in such a short space of time seems amazing... padmasana, mari d, supta kurmasana, tittibhasana, bakasana with jump back and drop backs, all within 9 months. I can't come up to stand from back bend unassisted, (I managed it once but it has evaded me since :) but I'm dropping back at home most practices, the Lino Miele way (walking hands back down legs then letting go). So my question is am I ready for the second series?

I'm trying to think back to when I started the primary series... did I think I'd never be able to do them? Yeah, I guess I did, I certainly didn't think I'd ever jump through to sit, let alone get into supta kurmasana and dropping back into a back bend. I remember watching the teacher demonstrate jumping through and thinking, 'yeah right!!'. lol. It's funny how quickly things change. The time's gone by in a flash.

Kino MacGregor says that if you can hold UHP without any stumbling, bind in mari d, bind and get legs behind head (with help is fine) in supta k and drop back and come up in your backbends, then you may be ready for intermediate series.

So now I find myself here with the David Swenson practice manual open half way through and feel like a complete beginner. Again. But it's exciting. Very exciting. A new journey! New postures to work out, new pain and discomfort to experience!!! So today I finished purvottanasana then began the intermediate section. It all seemed to be going fine until laghu vajrasana.

OMG, it was hilarious, 3 options to choose from from David's book, and I still couldn't work out which one to do!! I think that'll be one to do with a teacher. It was like, 'if I bend here? No. If I do it like it this? No, that doesn't work. Maybe like this? No never going to happen!' LOL.

Kapotasana I managed to do option D I think, taking the hands back to the wall, but oh dear, I think my back has a LOT of work to do! I have a very flexible lower spine, but my upper/thoracic spine is so stiff it's unbelievable. The back bends left me thinking, will I EVER be able to do them?!

I guess I just have to look back and remember seeing tittibhasana or supta kurmasana for the first time!!

When I started ashtanga I really didn't know what I was letting myself in for. Before I'd even finished, sorry, even seen the whole primary series I was already booked up for David Swenson's retreat in Goa! It wasn't until I got there and was half way through the first morning's practice when I thought, wow this is long, I don't remember this posture...or this one for that matter! Complete shock. This time, I know exactly what I'm letting myself in for, I have books, DVDs and practice manuals and sheets to remind me! To remind me of how far I have to go, how long the journey's going to be and how much work I will have to put in every practice.

Luckily for me I can do the first 8 postures, I can even bind in Pasasana! And I'm looking forward to getting to grips with all the rest!

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Backbending and the shoulder blade bandha revisited - 15 steps

I just read a really interesting piece in Gregor Maehle's book Ashtanga Yoga Practice and Philosophy about back bending. The main tenet of the piece was about what needs to be done once you have lifted into backbend.

The main thing seems to be releasing the tension on the muscles that got you into the posture and then to engage their antagonists. So around the shoulder girdle you release trapezius and deltoideous and instead engage pectoralis major (in the chest) and latissimus dorsi (down the sides of the back as if you are pulling your shoulder blades down your back).

Along the trunk you engage the abdominals, especially rectus abdomens and at a the hips release gluteus maximus by engaging psoas (in the front of the hips) and in the legs releasing the hamstring by engaging the quadriceps.

We want to make sure that we are not pinching the spinous processes of the vertebrae, so we need to lengthen the spine and back. This action is therefore performed by engaging the psoas, rectus abdomens and pectoralis major, all in the front of the torso.

We need to be protective of the lower, lumbar region of the spin as it is the softest region.

Tips to achieve a deep backbend:

1: Maintain the support of the muscles that got you into the posture then engage their antagonists.
2. Make a swiping movement with your hands towards the end of the mat (one by one I guess!) This action brings the sternum towards the wrists or beyond.
3.Walk your hands in towards your feet.
4. Engage the quadriceps as if you want to flex the hip joint. They cannot flex so they will instead work to straighten the legs.
5. Bring the hands closer to the feet (more space should have been made by the flexion of the hips)
6. Come up onto your tip-toes and lift your chest high above the shoulders. Bring your heels back down.
7. Engage your rectus abdominus and thrust your entire torso up to the ceiling. Engaging the Abs draws the spinous processes of the vertebrae apart, creating length and space within your back.
8. Ensure that your armpits, thighs and knees have a slight inward rotation.
9. Drishti is always to the nose (especially when dropping back).
10. Feel how the exhalations open the rib cage and the front of the body.
11. Drop the crown of the head and lengthen the neck.
12. Engage the latissimus dorsi to extend the arms, this will draw the shoulder blades down the back, opening the heart.
13. To stay open behind the heart, release the rhomboids and engage serratus anterior. This muscle sets the shoulder blades wide whenever weight is borne into the hands, also a key muscle in downward dog and arm balances.
14. So in all of these postures the shoulder blades need to be depressed (lats) and abducted (serratus anterior).
15. Beware of the inward rotate of the humorous (arm bone) as the inwards rotation lets the armpits flare out to the sides, an action that allows the shoulders to move up to the ears which ultimately decreases the backbend. This action needs to be counteracted by infraspinatus.

Unfortunately GM's description fails to describe how to engage the infrapinatus! If anyone knows, please feel free to advise. :)

Friday, 3 February 2012

Drop the sitting bone!

The new and amazing revelation this week has been through dropping the sitting bone in Utthita Hasta Padangustasana, or UHP as I like to call it :)

The above photo shows the A version, where you try to bring the chin to shin. You then bring the leg out the side for B, then back to centre for C, then release the leg, point the toe and hold leg elevated in the air for D. All need a great strength in the psoas muscle located at the been of the top of the thigh and the front of the hip.

UHP is a balancing posture first and foremost. My balance has always been ridiculous, ever since I started the practice. Balance is a funny thing, sometimes it's all right, a bit wobbly, other times I'm surprised I can even stand up on my own two feet it's that terrible! I personally put it down to focus, but also the time of the month has a lot to do with it, the moon cycle.

For ages I've just tried to rush through this posture, but because there are 4 elements to it it's hard to rush without your teacher spotting you! The first advice I had on how to hold UHP was from V, who said 'drop the hip back into the socket'. This did make a difference, but I'd find myself physically drawing the leg up, holding it steady, then letting it drop into the socket, which whist had its benefits, on its own used to put me off balance slightly. So I continued hopping around on the mat, putting myself and anyone around me off their balance!

But last Sunday I asked B to give me an adjustment / assist in UHP, which was amazing! Firstly he said 'drop the sitting bone', which whilst not sounding dissimilar to 'drop the hip into the socket', made a complete difference. This is where physical cues are important as I obviously wasn't 'getting' 'drop the hip'. B physically put his thumb in the crease of my outstretched hip/leg and pushed it towards the ground whilst holding the leg up. It brought the awareness to the sitting bone, equalising the force of the sitting bones drawing towards the ground in both the straight and the lifted legs. By pushing the sitting bone of the lifted leg towards the ground it immediately gave stability, from which you could then move the ball of the hip within its socket. Even from A to B, keeping the sitting bone dropped enabled me to get a massive external rotation in B and when brought back to centre for C and D, the strength was already held in the muscles around the hip joint to hold the outstretched leg higher for longer!!

The difference between dropping the hip into the socket and dropping the sitting bone is that with dropping the sitting comes an engagement and straightening out of the sacroiliac joint, which enables you to stand up straighter (coccyx to crown) and attain an overall better posture. You may even get an extra contraction of the anus increasing mula bandha strength.

Hoorah - another posture nailed. Give it a go, it's all about dropping the sitting bone. Think APANA VAYU, the downwards force, drop everything from the navel downwards towards the ground and its opposite force lifting everything from the navel upwards towards the sky. Great place to start for all standing AND sitting postures!