Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Padmasana and Pranayama: The conquest of air

 It's  pranayama week  so  here's a sequence that  prepares us  for  pranayama by means of padmasana work.  
 Junior  2 poses are  in bold. 

Supta Pad  cycle
AMS     (without support)
AMS   Hands on blocks 
Shoulder work
Sirsasana ( Leann  Teaching)
Padmasana prep work   Intermediate course
Parvatasana in Padmasana
Sarvangasana (Leann Teaching)
Savasana  w
Pranayama  Ujjayi 1-4

Sutra for today    quite relevant for  pranayama

3.42/  3.41
śrotrākāśayoḥ sambandha-saṁyamāt divyaṁ śrotram

By samyama on the relation between space and sound, the yogi acquires the power of hearing distant and divine sounds. The organ of hearing, the ear, grasps sound in space. This is the conquest of air.  (I)
By samyama on the relationship between the organ of hearing and the ether, divine hearing is attained. (B)

 Word study

śrotrā - ear
ākāśayoḥ -ether

saṁyamāt -by samyama
divyaṁ -divine

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Kapotasana Project, Backbends and Padmasana and Thanksgiving Week

Cynthia Bates  asked me to write a bit about the  ikonography and energetics of Kapotasana.  My first thought  was, "Wow.. I wish I were at a stage where  I had the ability to work with  that sort of  insight in the pose.    My second thought  was "well,  why not start thinking about  deeper layers even as I'm working on the most basic of  approaches to the pose. "

So with that idea in mind,   I thought ya'll might enjoy  21 amazing facts about pigeons. Perhaps most interesting to me how brave pigeons are, that they are symbols of peace  and that it is good karma to feed pigeons.   Energetically,   I'm learning how important the work of the legs is and how much the ability to get the arms straight opens the chest. Basically, the strong work of the arms and legs, the organs of action is what creates the space into which the backward bending comes. Pigeons are small powerful, strong birds.  Even more strength is needed to be in the smaller space of this pose than in say a bigger spaced backbend like urdhva D.  Also, at least for me it takes a lot of courage to confront the difficulty, like the pigeons who will carry messages even though they are in great danger in battle  et al. 

 Anyway,  as  I was  planning my week of yoga ahead, which includes  kapotasana  practice  #8 down in San Marcos,   I realized  that  this week marks my 20 year anniversary of  yoga practice.  The Saturday after Thanksgiving  1994, Waco  Texas with Walter Reece.    I'll write more about that  later, but  I had actually forgotten it was yoga anniversary week  until  now.   

I'm going to continue working with the basic sequence I developed for  Laurie's homework of  using  standing poses and backbends to  prepare for padmasana work.   Having now taught the basic sequence twice,   I'm in a better position to say on the  front end what the basic actions  I am working with are.

This one is a  two hour version with a few changes from last week. It also includes inversions.

Calf mashing
Parsva AMVira
UH  with strap behind head
BH arms
 Gomukasana Arms
Parsva Sirsasana
Paryankasana with Brick
Utthita Hasta Pad  First stage)
Vira I
Parsav Utthita Hasta Pad
Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana 
Gomukasaana full pose
 Parsva Dhanurasana
Chair Dwi pada  prep with elbows on chair
Chair Dwi Pada  Intro 1 through Junior  2
Chair twists
B1, 1.5, b2
Padmasana  prep
Eka Pada,  Parsva Eka Pada
Parsva Halasana

Leg  actions from standing poses that help with padmasana

Outer ankles toward inner ankles,
Outer calves  in
External rotation of  femu
Release  of  inner groin
Release of front groin

Arm work that helps 

Baddha Hastasana   arm reaching far over the torso  then move that arm up to    Bottom arm Gomukasana    those to me see most directly relevant for eventually doing Baddha Padmasana  which “must be accomplished)

Actions from backbends that help padmasana

Outer ankles toward inner ankles
Extend from inner knee through big toe side of foot
Opening of front groin (though I think this comes more into play with Matsyasana )

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Kapotasana Project and teaching in light of it

Thanks to Michael Lucey for  suggesting this blog topic to me.  (I do take requests).

Some time last year, Patricia Walden was planning to teach an advanced backbend intensive in Dallas where the requirement was being able to get your ankles in kapotasana (Plate  512 in LOY). Well,  I am a long way from being able to do that. I still, of course, wanted to go to the workshop. Who wouldn't?  Lucky for me, at some point, the workshop changed to be an advanced pranayama intensive. I don't remember exactly what the requirement was.  I think long inversions and a daily practice of digital pranayama. Anyway, I meet those requirements,  so off to Dallas I went.

However, the seeds of the kapotasana project were planted.  How in the world was I going to get my ankles in kapotasana?  I had really not being working even toward that pose much in the past three years.  I had it as a goal pose of the year a few years back, but  studying for the Junior 1 assessment more seriously and a series of shoulder tweaks and some lower and middle back issues,  took me off serious progressive backbend work for  a while.  (The backbends of Junior  I  aren't really super challenging.  I spent a ton of time learning lolasana  though....)

Anyway, I solicited the help of  an expert,  my sister, Christina Sell, and my husband Jeff, who has great backbends  and the three of us practiced together three times down in San Marcos doing three different PW sequences.  Jeff and I practiced on our own once last Thursday,  and I practiced by myself yesterday. 

When I left a semi-regular  practice relationship with kapotasana, I could push up from supta vira   (the way recommended to kapotasana for beginners.)  I could  bend the elbows and rest them on the floor and touch a toe or  two.  Which by the way is not how the book says to do it,    after pushing up, it  says  "bend the elbows, hold the toes, then rest the elbows on the floor. "  There's a big difference in that order of operation.   Then even though "breathing will be very fast and laboured,"  proceed from there to the heels.

The first time I went from ustrasana  (According to LOY, the entry from ustrasana is more advanced) and walked down the wall with any measure of awareness was at a Patricia Walden Feathered Pipe workshop in 2008 or so.  (Those logs were very helpful, a great angle for the wrists.)

But when I started back on the kapotasana project  I couldn't do quite that much.   I'm happy to report after  5  kapotasana practices in the past month or so I'm pretty much back to where I was  when I left off, but with a lot more awareness of how to work in the pose, so I'm really much better off.   I'm not anywhere near the goal, of course, but I'm at least back in an active relationship with this back bend. Actually, I'm six practices into the kapotasana project.   We did work on it in Advanced Practice a few weeks back and it is on the docket for today. (Advanced practice is, btw, just that, an advanced practice, not a class.  No one is teaching poses they aren't supposed, rather we come together to help each other in the practice of advanced poses).  So today will be  the kapotasana project  practice  #7.

Interestingly enough,  kapotasana  is not even  an advanced backbend according to LOY. Rather,  "it is essential to master Kapotasana before practicing the more difficult back-bending poses, which cannot be done until you have perfected Kaptoasana and Viparita Dandasana to Mandalasana). "

Kapotasana is not my only project.  I also have the more or less daily padmasana project.  The padmasana project intersects with my teaching prep  as padmasana (and tolasana, and matsyasasana) are on the junior two syllabus.   I am  thus, allowed to teach those poses and remain in compliance with the ethical guidlines  set out by  BKS Iyengar.  There's also a burgeoning kurmasana project,  (which I would also be allowed to teach).  I'm not right now working on kurmasana as regularly as  my other projects, but I know it is there, waiting....

For the non-Iyengar readers of this blog,   you might be perplexed by this language of  "allowed to teach."  Iyengar teachers cannot teach poses above the level that they are certified. With the permission of their mentor, they can teach the poses of the syllabus they are working on.

I would not be qualified to teach kapotasana  until I pass four more tests  as it does not appear until Intermediate Senior III.   ( George Purvis is the only person in the state of Texas who is actually qualified to teach the pose according to the Ethical Guidelines.)  Though after Randy Just passes one more test,  BKS Dallas  will have two teachers qualified to teach it! Not bad!  There  are many, many, more  levels  beyond even this exalted one.  

So  in terms of simple number of tests,  I'm not even half way to being qualified to teach kapotasana. Beyond the  number of tests,   those tests get progressively harder and harder to pass.  The pass rate of the Intermediate Senior II exam is something like 50%.   Given the trajectory of my professional and practice and prakritic life, I think it is unlikely that I will pass that many more tests,  so  according to the guidelines,  I will,  probably, never be able to teach that pose.

So, what's a yogini  like me  to do?   Though I question things a lot, I'm not really a big rule breaker.  But even that aside,   what do all these guidelines mean for my teaching life and my practice life?   One thing it means for sure,  is that we have a trajectory of  practice of  asana within our capability that we are always trying to improve and refine,  and a  trajectory of  practice of asana that we are qualified to teach that we are also always trying to improve and refine and a trajectory of practicing the teaching skills required to teach those poses effectively.  One trap of  assessment prep is to get really focused on the syllabus and let that other trajectory of practice lie dormant for awhile.    I'm trying not to fall into that trap this time around.  At some point,  what I'm  doing  in  my kapotasana project  influences my understanding of the poses that I am  qualified to teach,  Virasana,  Ustrasana, Supta Virasana,  just to name three of the most obvious.

Indeed,  the Certification Manual lists  qualities  required in a teacher   on page  2,

"Presence as a teacher is influenced by yoga practice."

It goes onto say that " Teachers should practice the asana until they are very clear and secure about their understanding and demonstration. This will allow the teacher to teach from confidence and to focus awareness on the students."  Which I think gets at why this rule about what you teach is in place. It is to protect both the teacher and ,more importantly, the student. 

The certification manual is a worthwhile read even if you aren't going through the process. For instance,  it lists  the "ability to lead students to develop progressively"  as something assessed at  the junior 2 level.  What does that mean?  You have to have developed the skills that  will endow your students with the capacity to improve their practice. I have a lot of students who can do poses that I am not anywhere near in my own practice, but my job is still to provide them with skills and insight  so that they can improve and I think the ability to teach  "toward"  or "in light of " advanced asana  comes  into play here.

I can't teach kapotasana  for many reasons the two most important being  1.  It is not on my approved level of poses.  2.  I really can barely do the beginning stages of the pose. I have no business teaching it.    But because it is in my practice array, I have a lot more to say about why it is important to work the little toe side of the foot in Virasana and Ustrasana.   Teaching Ustrasana with an eye toward Kapotasana ( Look at the legs in plate  41 and  plate  510)  is quite different that simply teaching Ustrasana to a beginner for the first time.  

Well, there's much more to say  about  the pedagogical value of the system itself. I do believe it trains teachers well.  However, it presents  real challenges to  Iyengar teachers  as they endeavor to  uphold the standards of their system and make a living at the same  time.  Also, that aspect of the system, as valuable as it  is,  is one of the many reasons Iyengar yoga  does not attract the young and capable yogis and yoginis in the way that other classes do.  (BTW- the average age of someone going through Introductory Assessment this year was  49).  

In the mean time,  here's the  Sutra  Study for  today

3.41 /3.40
samāna-jayāt jvalanam

By samyama on samana vayu, a yogi glows like fire and his aura shines. (I)
By  mastery over the samana vita air, radiance is  attained. (B)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A mid week report on Backbend week in Austin Iyengarland

Here's the sutra for  today.  Moving on from  entering the body of others  to levitation. 

3.40/ 3.39
udāna-jayāj jala-paṅka-kaṇṭakadiṣv asaṇga utkrāntiś ca

By mastery of udana vayu, the yogi can walk over water, swamps and thorns without touching them. He can also levitate. (I)
By mastery over the udana vital air, one attains  [the power of] levitation and does not come into contact with water, mud and thorns, etc.  (B)

word  study

udāna- one of the pranas, vital airs
jayāt- mastery over

ādiṣu- etc
 asaṇga- noncontact with
utkrāntiḥ - ascension, levitation

I am a long way from the lightness of  levitation, but just yesterday I was  practicing  Baddha Konasana and I did feel a spacious lightness that I never have in the pose. It is like there was  slightly less mud and thorns to get through.  I remember starting in on the BK work more seriously when I had the padmasana project about a year ago up at Laurie's where she said "why not make it an 18 month project."  One of  Laurie's students, Vicky, has a beautiful  BK she  folds forward with such grace and ease that I did wonder what it would be like to have that feeling of spaciousness in my own  body. 

It's been a good week  yoga wise  here in Austin.  Peggy's class was tons of fun on  Monday,  We started off with some standing poses and ended up with  Sirasana dropping over to Dwi Pada via some rather crazy fun rope work.     The standing pose  backbends to Padmasana was really fun in my own class Tuesday and  Devon taught  backbends some lovely supported work  on Tuesday and then more  supported work to  prepare us for  UD,  Dwi Pada   we even walked up the wall a bit  making a small gesture toward  gandha bherundasana  (Which by the way,  means  whole face formidable pose). 

I'm pretty much going to practice a similar sequence  and  work toward kapotasana  this afternoon.   This is more or  less what  Devon  taught  yesterday.

sukasana  twist forward to the side gently before  chanting
UH in Sukasana  extremely long holds
AMS  partner work with pumping motion moving chest toward feet. 
Parvatasana in Virasana
Supta Virasana with support to have flat pose
eka pada supta vira work
Back bends over bolster on chair
Backbend over back of chair, chair  turned around get chair legs.
Chair dwi pada with vertical sticky roll supporting tailbone and  head
Backbend over horse,  hook  elbows under  then  UD work
Dhanurasana salabasana foot work at wall
Dhanurasana, parsva D
UD  several
Dwi Pada a few
AMS, parsva Utt

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Two months of sabbatical life to go

Yesterday,  I realized I'll be back in the classroom in two months.  While I did not  panic,  it was a bit of  a wake up call to focus on what I most want to get done.

Right now, I'm working on writing a 3000 word version of  what will be  a 10,000 word paper  on The Theaetetus  (due in March). The 3000 word paper is for Ancient Philosophy Society is  first on my docket right now.

I've also got a works cited  page to finish up for the Patanjali and Aristotle paper, that is also due in December so that's  second on my list.

I want to get some more reading done as that's  hardest to carve out the space for.  Third, though this is a nebulous  goal.  Read the books  I've got around. 

Then   finish a draft of the long Theaetetus  article Fourth.

I've been reasonably productive.  Mostly  realized that the Plato project is a  trilogy.

I have one article already out and    three articles  coming out next year as a result of the work I did this summer and  on leave.

It helps to focus on what I've concretely done rather than getting lost in the  mire of all that needs to be done. 

Pranayama Workshop this weekend.

I've very excited about teaching the pranayama workshop this week.  You can find the details about it  here.

for  sutra study today,  here are the pranayama sutras from  Book II.

tasmin sati śvāsa-praśvāsayor gati-vicchedaḥ prāṇāyāmaḥ

Pranayama is regulation of the incoming and outgoing flow of breath with retention. It is to be practised only after perfection in asana is attained. (I)
When that [asana] is accomplished, pranayamah, breath control, [follows]. This consists of the regulation of the incoming and outgoing breaths. (B).
bāhyābhyantara-stambha-vṛttiḥ-deśa-kāla-saṅkhyābhiḥ paridṛṣṭo dīrgha-sūkṣmaḥ

Pranayama has three movements: prolonged and fine inhalation, exhalation and retention; all regulated with precision according to duration and place. (I)
Pranayama manifests as external, internal, and restrained movements of breath. These are drawn out and subtle in accordance to place, time, and number. (B)
bāhyābhyantra-viṣayākṣepī caturthaḥ

The fourth type of pranayama transcends the external and internal pranayamas, and appears effortless and non-deliberate. (I)

The fourth [type of pranayama]- surpasses the limits of the external and the internal. (B).

tataḥ kṣīyate prakāśāvaraṇam

Pranayama removes the veil covering the light of knowledge and heralds the dawn of wisdom. (I)
Then, the covering of the illumination [of knowledge] is weakened. (B)
dhāraṇāsu ca yogyatā manasaḥ

The mind also becomes fit for concentration. (I)
Additionally,  the  mind  becomes fit for concentration. (B) 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Post class update on laurie Homework

Okay,   that sequence was a little ambitious but I got through most of  it.  Here's  what I  actually taught.   We  repeated most things except  B2

Calf mashing
UH  with strap behind head
BH arms  Gomukasana Arms
Ardha Baddha Padmo (concave back)
Vira I
Gomukasaana full pose
 Parsva Dhanurasana
Chair Dwi pada  prep with elbows on chair
Chair Dwi Pada
Would have done more padmasana prep work, but actually it went really well and we were out of  time. 

 So  I asked the class a lot about what  actions they thought were relevant for padmasana  (and backbends) and below is a partial list or at least the things I think I'd focus on specifically the next time I teach.  

Leg  actions that help with padmasana

Outer ankles toward inner ankles,
External rotation of  hip (Outer femurs in
External rotation of lower leg
Descent of  inner groin

Laurie asked about the arm actions also. 
Arm work getting arms straight and behind ears before  bending elbow to make clasp with top arm  .

Baddha  Hastasana   arm reaching far over the torso  then move that arm up to    Bottom arm Gomukasana  

 A lot of really interesting questions came up and I think because I let everyone in on the game plan,  everyone's intellect was  involved.  The amazing thing was  padmasana itself went really well.  Not all were in  first time around but even the  easy padmasana doers were in much tighter with much better foot action that usual.  This way of working  yielded a more intelligent padmasana for sure.  

I felt challenged in that my own verbal way of describing is more  based on the specifics of the pose or  progressive work,  like if I were just teaching  this sequence as  backbend prep that would be one thing, but because I was teaching backbends and prep for  padmasana my mind was working differently.  I e.  it was   geared toward uncovering the padmasana seed and backbends.  This dual way of  thinking uncovered for me all sorts of  connections  that lie dormant, like the  lower leg in bhekasana when you work to bring it all the way to the floor and  padmasana.  Because of the padmasana focus in my mind I saw that aspect of the bhekasana more clearly.  

Anyway,  highly recommend.