Happy Holidays! Here is the sequence to practice while I am in India. Those of you that have not taken some of these asanas please do not try them at home. Practice from the sequence ONLY what you have done already done in a class. If you are not sure what the pose is, look it up either in Light on Yoga or online. Find things you can use at home as props, for example: holding the sides of the chair for your Adho Mukha Svanasana. Hint- the wall is an excellent prop.
Gomukhasana- arms only
Paschim Baddha Hastasana
Uttanasana- concave back
Adho Mukha Svanasana
Trianga Mukhaikapada Paschimottanasana
Marichiyasana I- twisting only
Marichiyasana I full pose
Chatush Padasana- strap around the ankles, hands holding the strap
Shoulderstand OR Shoulderstand on the chair- you need to have enough blankets under the shoulders, otherwise do no practice
Lying down with the calves resting on the chair, blankets under the hips
Be aware, be conscious of what you are doing in your practice.
Love and light,
I see asanas as an artist. The art of sequencing like painting a blank canvas, so many combinations and permutations. And within each asana, through the use of props, there are again so many combinations and permutations....ways of experiencing the richness each pose has to offer. Some people see asanas as physical manifestations. I see them as ethereal. Some people see asanas through the muscles, bones and joints. I mostly see them as painting an awakening. While I understand the importance of anatomy and physiology, I cannot help but view asanas as swirls of colors dancing and melding together.
There are so many different shapes the body can create through an asana. A most common one is the letter 'L'!
Ardha Uttanasana, Dandasana, Urdhva Hasta Dandasana, Urdhva Prasarita Padasana, concave back Uttanasana, concave back Padangushtasana, Ardha Halasana, Paripoorna Navasana, Ardha Sirsasana, Ardha Adho Mukha Vrksasana
Why is this L shape is so important? And why does it keep reappearing in so many of the asanas? Because through the L shapes our bodies become more in tune and start to readjust the bad postural habits we may have accumulated. There is a strong lifting action created in the torso, we begin to understand the length of our spine and the line of our sides, we begin to understand what the action of the legs do and what their inaction does not do. We begin to understand what is the foundation and although the shape remains the same what actions change or remain the same. Unbeknownst to us the magical letter L starts to transform and re-shape our dull bodies to ones with purpose, strength, and in fact greater flexibility.
This magical letter L that reappears can save people from problems of the digestive system- indigestion and acidity to name a few. L shaped asanas also aide in strengthening the core.
So many magical things can be seen and uncovered in the world of asanas. There is a beauty to Guruji's work that creates a strong foundation from the beginning through asanas and sequencing. As he said, "Yoga is an art, a science, a philosophy" . It is a kaleidoscopic journey through true beauty.
Often, the most common ache and pain people come to yoga with is in their low back. Low back pain has become about as common as saying one has a headache. Why is the lower back causing so many problems? It is related wholly to the spine, save for the exceptions when there has been a pulled muscle. We have forgotten that the spine runs up the entire back. Overuse of the lumbar spine and hyperextension of it in day to day activities has made our thoracic spine completely useless. The intelligence has been lost in the spine as to how it was meant to be used and we have been working only from half of it. Now granted this is not the case for all low back pain sufferers and we must also recognize that it could also be related to activity or lack thereof in the legs. But generally speaking most people have forgotten the thoracic spine, that area in the upper back. As people start to age they begin to develop what could be called the hunchback or sever kyphosis of the upper back. This is a clear indication that as Guruji would say it has become dull (and he would have likely even used the word stupid).
In forward extensions, more apparent in seated forward extensions, it becomes clear of the intelligence of one's back. Often with beginners to yoga we see that people hunch their back to move their hands towards their feet when doing a forward bend. If looking from a side profile would this make sense to the viewer that to get the best possible extension we were rounding our back instead of expanding it?
When observing the frontal body in doing a forward bend we can see also that if extending with a rounded back the chest is also collapsing. The heart, the lungs etc. are all closed. There is no space, no mobility for the breath to move and organs to easily work.
Now, when performing seated forward extensions with a concave back this works a little better in elongating the torso but again here most people move from the lumbar spine to move. While more space is created this gives no intelligence to the whole spine. Another cause for misuse of the lower back could also be due to the fact that most people carry their tension in the neck and shoulders. This leads to tight shoulders and trapezius making it difficult to get anything moving in that area. It is always so much easier to use the more lucid area of our body and therefore the upper gets completely ignored. The work to loosen it up and actually use our wonderful upper back seems to have been lost! We must begin to use our upper back, firstly by working to open that area and then secondly, to work intelligently to include it, especially in forward extensions. Perhaps then we would have less cases of low back pain/injuries
We have to start working intelligently from the base of the spine all the way up through the back of neck. When you impress the thoracic spine deeper into the body and make the front body to expand what changes is not only physical. The mind also starts to expand and when the mind expands so does the intelligence.
Oh Guru My Guru
To some he was like a father figure, to me he was like a grandfather figure.
I met him for the first time in my dreams and then that very same year I bowed to him in person. He kept visiting me in my dreams right up until I met him.
Never did I ever think I would meet him. All of the grueling hard work I went through to get to RIMYI was well worth doing sastanga namaskar- full body prostration, to the man who saved me from a mundane life. I didn't care that I was wearing a nice salwar or that girls don't usually bow to the floor in full prostration. When I came up from pranam he said very sincerely 'May God bless you'.
I had planned out what I would say to him in Marathi, but when the time came he didn't seem to understand my accent. Luckily, he understood ladoo and chocolates and smiled.
I had always felt his presence was with me, guiding me although we had never met.
He came often to visit me in my dreams. The day I took over my studio he came to visit it in my dreams, pleased that I had it.
Heh Pitamah- oh grandfather at a time when my life was full of twisted roads leading nowhere you showed me how to connect somewhere- to the Universe through yog. That yog which has always supported me, lead me straight to your door...quite literally.
I remember arriving early to upstairs class watching you from the second floor windows, working at your desk.
I remember watching you that Saturday from the practice hall as you sat reading on your porch. Of course you knew someone was watching you and you looked up right at me, sheepishly I ducked. Embarrassed at my enrapture.
I remember the last words you said when I was leaving as I bowed my head to your feet and I told you I would be back. "Narayana, Narayana"
Oh guru my guru
I loved sitting in the library in the afternoons and listening to your exchange with students and visitors.
I was sad when you could no longer make downstairs to the library and I remember how eerie it was to be there, your presence missing.
Oh guru my guru
How silly I was when I first came there. I have gained some intelligence since I last saw you, but still I have so much more to develop!
Oh guru my guru
My first visit I came in November and happily on my birthday, Nov. 2nd, put a garland around the statue of your beloved Ramamani, as we share the same birthday. I finally felt at home inside the gates with the Aum, on Hari Krishna Mandir Road, walking down the path, past your house with Pranams to all the statues - Shri Ganeshaya Namah, Shri Krishnaya Namah, Shri Nandi Gai ko Namah, Shri Patanjali ko Namah, Shri Saraswatye Namah...
Last month was the last dream of you. You came to my studio and were pleased at the work I was doing with students. But it wasn't you, it was your younger self. Sitting on the floor in Janu Sirsasana or was it Dandasana? I cannot remember, only that I was confused as to why your younger self was visiting me and why not you with your white hair and grandfatherly self.
Oh guru my guru
All alone where I live your dreams kept me in touch.
I feel unsettled now that you are gone, on the verge of tipping a very fine balance. I force myself to practice, staring up at the ceiling and wondering if I will ever meet you again now, if at all just in my dreams.
Guruji says that yoga is an art, a science and a philosophy. It has become for me a whole lot more than that. It is my saving grace, a means to a livelihood and my life coach. I teach for the joy I feel when I see my students working through asanas. To be able to help people understand themselves while at the same time working on understanding my Self gives me the greatest satisfaction in life. There was a time when I was wandering through life unsure about what I wanted to do, only that I wanted to help people. Throughout the years as I delved more and more into what yoga is I realized that I would have to help myself before I could help others. Yoga has given me the ability to examine myself and my actions, it has given me clarity in thought and word and the ability to see life in it's most vibrant colors.
There are two things I say frequently to people. The first is that yoga works to the cellular level and the second is that yoga makes life's colors appear in more vibrant hues. When the mind is still and the life force is flowing unrestricted, that is when life is experienced most purely, as it is, in it's essence.
To be able to experience even a glimpse of that beauty is completely worth all the hard work required in studying, practicing and teaching. I teach for the love of yoga and for the gratitude to everything it provides for me. Yoga meets me halfway every time, without fail. It is indeed the love of my life. Someone I met recently tried to explain to me that I may find other things to do in life and that this may just be what I am doing now. I am not sure how to explain it but without teaching and without studying yoga it would be like losing the greatest love of my life, that which makes my life feel content.
The love that I feel for yoga comes from it's ability to help me See the bigger picture, the Universal picture...even if just a fleeting glance.
I recently taught a class where we did purvottanasana and viparita dandasana on the chair. Having come back from studying in Pune I no longer feel any back stiffness or necessarily need to twist out my back after practicing back bends (though I still do in order to practice safely). One older woman who comes regularly to classes and is pretty fit came up from the viparita dandasana on the chair with an awful pain in her lower back.
Twisting till the end of class I asked her if she has always had low back pain and if she practices back bends. She replied that it came and went, it was just stiff and she didn't really like practicing back bends. It was then I had a vision of her low back as a dry, parched place. I told her that because her low back was so stiff she should practice supported back bends little by little to increase the fluidity or rasa in that area. When it was full of rasa or fluidity back bends would come much easier and she would have less stiffness and pain in that area. She seemed to understand my picture I tried to create about giving movement to her lower back.
Often times the stiffest places I encounter in people are in the lower back and knees. Places such as the neck/shoulders and hips tend to be more tight or hard than stiff. There is a difference. Imagine that the stiffness is caused by dryness in that particular area and it needs rasa or juice to move through and keep the prana or life force flowing through the area. Without this rasa the prana would flow but sucked dry as though moving through a desert. If there is no rain to keep soil moist how will any life come out of it?
Similarly, the areas that are usually tight such as neck/shoulders and hips are areas where there is not dryness but a block. An accumulation, if you will, of a rock pile amidst the soil not allowing for water to generously pass through. This tightness needs practice as well not to create rasa but to breakup accumulations which do not allow the prana or life force to move freely through that area. In eastern medicine disease or pain is caused by the inability of our prana or chi or life force to move throughout the body. This is why we practice asanas or physical postures. In order to keep our bed of soil moist without any hindrance from rocks.
While there are different types of discomforts we may initially feel, a huge benefit of physical postures is the rasa or juice of life to flow throughout our bodies.
©Amita Bhagat 2013
I just read an excellent article on therapeutics and what it means in Iyengar yoga. Stephanie Quirk is an Iyengar yoga therapeutics instructor. She has been observing and working with the Iyengars in Pune since 1994. The wealth of knowledge she has amassed since her time there, and of course her time spent in Pune is enviable to say the least. What really stood out to me in her article was that often times therapeutic yoga is equated with restive or restorative poses. This should not necessarily be the case! She states:
"When working directly on a patient’s asana, the teacher needs to think of how the patient is able or not able to absorb or tolerate being in the pose. There is no point in taking them to a pose that is too strong, too far for them to reach. The reverse is also true. It is a common misunderstanding that therapy is all about “resting” or restorative poses. There may be fatigue or circulatory problems or mental imbalances that have to be released at the beginning of an asana session, but to allow the patient’s circulatory, nervine, and mental systems to sink into dullness can create more problems."
Recently, I had the Divine luck to attend classes with senior teachers from RIMYI. All the teachers from RIMYI- Devkiji, Dr. Rajlaxmiji and Raya seemed to be instructing us to move dynamically and with intention. Part of my takeaway from their teachings reminded me of a saying that Richard, my first teacher, would always tell us in our training. He used to constantly say that Mr. Iyengar would always say, "Do not be DULL". Jokingly, I came up with the acronym WWBKSID. (Side note, I should really get those on a bracelet) It stands for WHAT WOULD BKS IYENGAR DO? He would probably say not to be dull. The dullness with which we do our asanas or even conduct our daily routines must be expunged! I think that alot of times when we are doing restorative poses to calm and quiet the mental fatigue we forget that it is just in the mind. The body can be active and the mind at rest when practicing asanas. As Ms. Quirk aptly states that allowing the patient's circulatory, nervine and mental systems to deplete can create more problems.
So DO NOT BE DULL in your practice! Be dynamic!
I just watched this great post by Leslie Kaminoff, who is the author of Yoga Anatomy and is inspired by the traditions of TKV Desikachar. On his first trip to KYM (Krishnamacarya Yoga Mandiram) he sat in on sessions with patients who had various ailments like stroke, diabetes etc... He noticed that the tools used at KYM for these particular patients were very simple. The aim of KYM is to help patients find the force of action in their system to eliminate their issues. That it really had to do with strengthening the patients ability to get rid of what was undesirable. According to TKV Desikachar, "Yoga Therapy is 90% waste removal".
On Meditation, Ethics and Cultivating the Mind...
Key take away points:
1. Various modes of behavior.
2. Ethics is the golden ground- the basis upon which any spiritual practice should be developed ex. Yama/ Niyama- that which should be followed/that which should not be followed; the main difference between traditional medicine- getting to the root of the problem and the western medicine- overwhelm the influence of diet and behavior, suppressing the senses to tackle only the surface level of the issue. Going along with the excellent example of medicine, B. Alan Wallace explains that when traditional medicine doctors prescribe herbs and also dietary restrictions if one follow only the herbs and not the diet then the efficacy the efficacy of the herbs is cancelled out. So the question arises why take something if you don't fully follow what is needed? Along the same lines B. Alan Wallace explains that our behavior saturates our waking life and if we don't transform our behavior and only meditate it would be the same as taking the herbal medicine and throwing away the rest of the necessary modifications.
3. Transform our behavior, avoid to the best of our ability injurious behavior by the body, speech, and mind and be of service. If the only thing practiced is meditation and the rest that comes with it is thrown out then meditation will have the most superficial impact.
4. It begins with ethics and after this is, in Sanskrit known as Bhavana- to cultivate...cultivating the mind, training ourselves to recognize the tendencies that are harmful and phase out. B. Alan Wallace uses the example of a farmer cultivating the fields. One must cultivate the field of the mind. Training ourselves to recognize which tendencies are harmful to ourselves and other beings and weeding them out.
5. Act on wholesome influences.
6. Cultivating exceptional mental balance and enacting through behavior and he says through this the mind becomes it's own sense of well-being.
7. The truth will set us free-that which is seen across all religions. The difference between memorizing the truth and walking around reiterating what was memorized but knowing the truth experientially. Allowing it to become the truth that we know, rising above suffering.
- Thank you B. Alan Wallace for your words of wisdom. Hari AUM
"We can do no great things, only small things with great love." - Mother Theresa hit it right on with this quote, quite obviously the woman was a Saint. It is applicable to so many situations! Recently, I've been thinking alot about this quote, which is one of my favorites and also about that Miley Cyrus song 'the climb'. I've come to realize that it's not about getting anywhere, it's about the journey there. It's not about 'what's waiting on the other side, it's the climb...'.
For a while I went through a phase in my Yoga practice where I was too hard on myself (classic high Vata). I kept injuring myself because I was trying to get somewhere that I was not ready to go to. I felt I had to be able to go deeper into a pose, be able to do the full pose, push my flexibility to the limits. And then I hit a major downward spiral...literally...I fell, hit my head and had a serious concussion and injury. This was a forced slow down which meant my practice became strange variations of would be Asanas. Although, I am still working back from my injury, I have really changed my attitude towards what it means to practice Yoga. Instead of practicing with rigidity and harshness I have to come find a place of love for wherever I am in my practice. I no longer look to do great things with my Asanas but rather small feats with great love. Of course, working in this manner has brought me deeper into, not only my practice, but my attitude teaching and the ability to become more sthambhana or grounded. Being a high Vata person this is quite a feat! To find great love in the small things of my practice has allowed me to reach depths where the light bulb finally turned on in my practice and also to understand better other people and their ailments/pains. The best compliment I received was by a student of mine with decades of pain/surgeries, who told me I was really good at teaching because I could understand about people's limitations and assist them in modifying. The most gratifying thing I have ever experienced in my life is to truly be able to help someone, watching them walk out a little straighter and a little taller than when they first came in. Wow finally a glimpse of a purpose for walking this earth!
Doing no great things but small things with love can be equated to simply saying it's not what you do but how you do it. It's not about that other side of the mountain but rather, how you got to that other side. This should be an every day life practice, the how of doing instead of the what of doing. The being present in every action. I would then propose that when we are present in an action we are providing that action with love.
I didn't realize that the strength, stability, sthambhana came from the how and not the what. That small things with great love have more strength than the what we do.
The trials and tribulations, successes and setbacks, the learning that happened on the journey. And I suppose one day when we wake up to that place of 'there' we will realize that it all happened as it should. Had we done it without the small things with great love would we really ever end up 'there'?