Sunita - February 8th 2020 - Headaches
This one is for you, Naomi!
The coolest day I've ever known in Pune, overcast and fresh. We sat expectantly wondering who would come in to teach the women's class and today it was the turn of Sunita. Slight internal tremor of the "Ok we're really in for it now" variety. Well I couldn't have been more wrong! Her overriding concern was for a student that had arrived with a chronic headache problem (chronic in the sense that she has had a headache for around 2 years) and the whole class was geared around that and teaching us how to help this problem.
Abhi's niece came up to see what was going on, first of all sitting on the steps just watching and then gradually getting bolder and bolder, until she was on the platform performing headstands and falling over behind Sunita as she was teaching. A few times she came to whisper to Sunita, who I think considered not encouraging her, but once she caught her eye she couldn't help but break out into a huge, sunny smile, so the class just carried on around her play and we saw Sunita in the roll of besotted, indulgent Great Aunty. There is a different, softer and happier energy around the institute, as the children spread joy in that way that only children can do.
Throughout her clear and helpful teaching, references to what Guruji or Geetaji would have said were made. She mentioned how Geetaji was so annoyed when people came to her to tell her of a problem and then said, "But it's okay, I know how to manage it". Her feeling was, "If you know how to manage it, why are you coming to tell me about it!!" We should not just 'manage' but learn how to work, how to improve our problems.
My first visit this trip, to the fruit and veg market and I spent the afternoon happily engaged in making sauerkraut which I'm hoping will ferment quickly - apparently if you add a little sugar and slightly more salt it ferments much quicker, so fingers crossed.
Sunita – 8th February 2020 – Headaches
Sunita did not take the invocation at the beginning of the class, her concern was with a student that had come in with a chronic headache problem. The instructions that were given in AMVirasana, were repeated throughout the forward bends, constantly reminding us to soften, release spread. Where there is pain on a particular side of the skull, that side is the side that should face up. Although we were working for headache, Sunita reminded us that this was also a good way to work for the students with asthma who have tightness in the diaphragm, this spreading of the back body and calming of the nerves very useful to ease the breathing.
AMVirasana – Do not extend the arms straight – Bolster horizontal with 3 fold blanket horizontal on top. Arrange the prop in such a way that the eye brows are supported and then release the brain to the front of the forehead. Temples dropping towards the eyes, no resistance there. Eyes closed, release downwards. Spread the elbows – in the case of the headache the neck gets clinched – the skull should release away from the neck and the shoulders should spread and give space to the sides of the neck. So, either end of the neck, no clinching and the skin there should be soft. Side trunk has to extend enough so that the back body can release down – as Guruji said “Why do you make your own dome?? They make the dome for you when you die, so why you make your own dome now, huh?!!” Now, exhale and release the back body down. Back body has to spread and go down, so breathe in such a manner as to spread the back body and spread the organs of the back body with the exhalation. Exhale into the back body to make it completely soft. Release the tongue, don’t push the teeth there. Jaw relaxed, don’t harden.
Ideal scenario for headache problem – forward bends to a setubandha bench where the arms have the space to spread much wider. In the case of headaches, they are caused by muscular tension which makes the nerves tighten, so the asanas have to be taken to where the muscular body can soften to release the tightness of the nerves (no trianga mukha eka pada paschimottonasana, no marichyasana or ardha baddha padma fwd bends as they require a muscular grip). So headache sequence starts with forward bends as best way to release that muscular tension and bring the softness required. Use your exhalations to create the release and spread of the back body, organs spreading, shoulder blades releasing away from the spine. When you come up, see that you come up with the eyes closed so that you do not disturb the softness, the quietness that has been created. Many times the bandage is given for headache relief, wrapped around the eyes and the forehead, where you can’t see – you don’t need to see to come up, there is nowhere to fall, so come up with the eyes closed.
X legs bend forwards – same instructions for softening the neck and back body and learning to fully release tension with the exhalation.
Janu Sirsasana – When working for headache relief, do not pull the leg so far back as this will create a pull, ease of forward movement has to be there and take the extended leg slightly wider. Create space and softness. Same instructions.
Paschimottonasana – Feet apart – same instructions.
Invocation to Patanjali and Guru chant.
Uttanasana – We did uttanasana, feet apart and head supported on bolster and blanket. For the student with chronic headache (also useful for high blood pressure) best method is slanting half uttanasasna where the buttocks are kept on the wall, legs apart, with the feet forwards of the wall, so the hips are further back than the heels and resting on the wall. Extending down to (for example) stool and bolster, so that there is a descending order from hips, down to chest, down to head. She demonstrated how in headache problem, the junction between the neck and shoulders (7th cervical area) tends to get pushed upward. She showed us the adjustment on the chronic headache student where she took the area between pointing finger and thumb, open to an L Shape to repeatedly press and release, to take that area down into the body.
Adho Mukha Svanasana – head supported and passive
Prasarita Paddotonasana – head supported and passive
Sirsasana – Sirsasana would not be the first pose you would give a headache patient – rope sirsasana may be better. Spread your shoulders well and keep them well lifted. The skin of the cheeks has to fall softly towards the floor. Eyes, throat, jaw, tongue passive.
When we came down she asked us what was our feeling after sirsasana, what did it remind us of? – the answer she was looking for was ‘savasana’ (and this is what we felt like) she told how Guruji used to say that it is often easier to feel savasana in asana than it is to feel savasana in savasana.
Before the standing poses she asked did we mind that the class was being structured all around one student with a headache problem. The class reassured that we did not mind at all and she invited us to orientate our mats for our standing poses so that we could see the work she was doing with headache student with neck curvature over the rope. There were few instructions in the standing poses while she gave her attention to assisting, but the main thing was to keep face, neck, brain, eyes passive. We could look at the floor or upwards as we wished, once the quietness was not disturbed.
Bharadvajasana 1 – eyes first looking forward, but body still turning, then maintaining the quietness looking over the chest and eventually over the back shoulder. Normally the mind is with the back body, with the spine in Bhara 1. What happens if you bring the awareness to the front body to turn? (our sudent with chronic pain was doing at the wall, seated on a stool, hip touching wall with a bolster between side trunk / head and wall, so that head remained vertical and supported on the bolster).
Sarvangasana – the abdomen should lift.
Halasana – knees slightly bent (NOT karnapidasana, just a little bent) stay for a while and then straighten – can you feel the effect of straightening the legs (do a few times so that you are clear). It was very clear that each time the legs were straightened stress was caused in the face – in my case the forehead, but others got it in the jaw, the shoulders or elsewhere, but universally straightening the legs created an unwelcome pull or hardening in the areas we had managed to soften.
Setubandha or bent leg Viparita Karani – setubandha would not be given with a brick in the case of the headache, but it could be done with the bolsters. Bent leg viparita karani even better, bolster under the buttocks, legs bent and apart on the stool and belt tied around the legs of the stool and the thighs “Groins have to descend in Viparita Karani!”.