31st October - Geetaji Pranayama
I had the strangest experience this morning, when walking through the park to get the daily veg. As I walked in, every single person was frozen stock-still, some mid stride. It was most peculiar and I was completely unsure what to do. As I dithered, an unspoken signal seemed to pass around the park and everyone started moving again, as if nothing happened. So strange! I asked the fruit seller what was going on and he just looked at me like I was crazy and had no idea what I was talking about. I am wondering whether this had been organised in solidarity with those protesting the murder of Kashoggi. At the time I wondered if I should have taken a photo and then realised that it would have looked exactly the same as any normal photo anyway!
I am sitting and writing my final blog post from the roof top terrace in perfect temperatures and reflecting on the month gone by. We've had a full month of Geetaji, who despite having concerns about her own health, actually seems to be incredibly well. Fully articulate and as committed to her teaching as ever, we have been blessed indeed. Thanks to Sarah for warming up meals and doing the washing-up so that I could have the time needed to write classes up while the memory is fresh and thanks to observers who at times shared their notes with me, saving me the pain of wrangling over which uttanasana came where! And thanks to Louis and Frances (and all my cover teachers) back home who have been holding the fort for me. Please bear in mind (especially with Geetaji classes) that my notes have been passed through the very crude filter of my memory and understanding and therefore much of Geetaji's subtlety and depth of understanding will have been lost - there is no substitute for classes here and I hope that by sharing my blogs, I de-mystify the process of coming and studying here so that more of you will feel the confidence to come and do it. And those for whom that is not a possibility, it is especially for you that I am motivated to share this information with. Until next time .....
31st October – Geetaji Pranayama
Swastikasana Invocation and Guru Chant
Arrange your external body so that you find the space in your internal body. Make that space everywhere so that every bit of your body breathes.
Penetrate the heels into the floor and get the extension of the back leg -lift of the thighs at the back to give the release of the side trunk down. Elongation, extension downwards. CCB Uttanasana stand up.
After giving us some time to get established in the pose, she instructed us to reach the head and trunk towards the feet – “Surrender the head to the feet, In that manner GO!” “Observe where you get caught and GO!”
Sirsasana (Menstruation viparita dandasana on the bench)
Whole body upwards, once we focus on one part we forget the other parts. You have to be aware everywhere. Extend from your waistline to your outer feet, the prana has to reach everywhere. What part of the shoulder goes up? Armpit, inner shoulder? Everything is connected – shoulder, neck collarbone. Where doesn’t respond? What is the contact of the back of the skull left and right side? She spoke extensively on the importance of correct alignment, which is not something that can be grasped with notes in your notebooks giving technical points. When head / neck / shoulders are misaligned EVERYTHING is affected. Brain, nerves, prana, energy flow, thoughts - all goes wrong, do you realise this? And this changes according to how long you stay – your sirsasana of 3 minutes is not the same sirsasana of 8 or 10 minutes, how we get that upwards pull when we first go up – where does the shakiness come? Where does the pose give way? All this you have to observe instead of being so easily satisfied – I am up, I am comfortable – it is not about comfort. Use the corner of the room to feel the energy distribution evenly.
After giving us time to establish the pose, she observed then the refinements can come, improvements can be made.
AMVrksasana (Menstruation Paschimottonasana)
Elongate side trunk fully upward, armpit area UP! Keep space between shoulder and cervical neck. 2nd attempt kick up with the other leg and try to find out why one side is so much weaker – where does the failure come from, what is failing? 3rd attempt – both legs jumping.
Halasana (Menstruation setu bandha on bench)
Arms outstretched behind and then LOY interlock (not the easy one) pull the shoulder bones completely back, so that entire cervical neck is supported and extended. Which shoulder moves easily? which gets caught? – we have to really take the time to observe this, otherwise we just blindly, stupidly go up. Microscopic attention is required! Elongating legs, opening soles of feet.
Come straight back down and kick up with the other leg. Use the hands to open the ribs, open the side chest. Separate the legs and observe your ‘beautiful’ knees – if you are 40 your knees are 60, if you are 20 they are 40! How they age before us. Lift up the buttocks, otherwise they always look like the pregnant buttocks, how they hang back – move in and up to take the legs back. Move buttock crease in to take the legs back. From shoulders to legs, body has to move upwards. Use hands and PUMP chest forwards, chin and chest together, when you move them away from each other, this is a fear of dying.
She talked here about our duty to do our utmost in each asana. "In each asana you have to die 10 times in order to live! You have to DIE to straighten your knees, you have to DIE to lift your shoulders! and then you will be alive!". She said that when we want to slack off, our mind will often happily collude with us – you need to skip practice today, you have to attend to some other business, the mind will easily let you off. But your sattvic prakriti will never been fooled, will never be satisfied with less than your best – it knows – you are answerable to you.
Supine Pranayama bolster and blanket
If necessary adjust 20 times – be absolutely diligent in your adjustment, don’t be easily satisfied. Most different asanas you can’t divide body easily. Arms and legs will be uneven – extend arms and legs evenly. Learn to observe yourself from your own inner experience. How much is right palm / left palm turned out? Sternum in centre. Rib cage from centre to sides spreading. Head / brain in centre. Brain and brain cells descend, eyes melting from brain to body brings you to exhalation. Descending from brain to feet, passive eyes. Brain and body becomes light. Body becomes empty, as if there is nothing there.
Spread buttocks right to right side, left to left side. Turning the feet so that the soles of the feet rest down on the bed of the metatarsels. Hold them with your hands like that for a good while, because it takes time for the imprint to be made. Turn the thighs, turn the calves, see that you are not caught in the back of the knee. See how this is working towards pranayama in padmasana. For head to go down, anterior body has to lift and open. Neck problem keep head up. Upper chest forward and upwards. I didn’t give instruction for horizontal widening, only lift of anterior body – but you find out how, at a certain point of vertical lift the widening comes of its own accord. Slow inhalation and exhalation – not slow in the sense of velocity, but slow in the sense of full observation. In the supine she only taught the exhalation, but now that the weather is cold (!) we need to practice the inhalation.
We often give instruction to fill the lungs to the brim, to the clavicles, but observe in yourself how this is not really possible. So inhale, observe where your breath stops and then, when you meet that resistance, re-lift the very upper chest and widen it to the sides and find out what happens there. For me I found that my breath then went and filled this very upper chamber but later she seemed to say that at this point she wasn’t intending us to breath there, only to feel that internal touch there.
Now full lift of anterior spine and fully take the back ribs in and up, be completely concave there.
If you are breathing from the very bottom to the very top, it is difficult to reach the very upper regions of the chest. So next inhalation, begin from the middle chest, lift and spread the top chest and find out where the breath reaches.
This is why it’s called Ujayii – going up, upwards conquest.
Savasana no blanket
After sitting for pranayama this adjustment should be easily experienced. Shoulder blades completely tucked under, back ribs in and side chest elevated - Nail the outer corners of the shoulders down. Like Jesus Christ on the cross, he was able to be resurrected because of the way he was nailed. Keep throat long, soft open – the moment your throat shortens, head tilts and mind begins to wander.