Day 6 IYNAUS Zoom Intensive - Supported Backbends
Penultimate day of Abhi's teaching and today we focussed on supported backbends. She reminded us not to go all out in terms of strong muscular action at this time, we should not be doing unsupported urdhva dhanurasana, dwi pada viparita dandasana. Now is the time to use props to become comfortable and find an ease in the breath so that we can stay longer and receive the benefits of the poses more passively. Guruji used to stay in DPVD unsupported for 10 minutes, because he could BREATHE. For better immunity the adrenals should be stimulated without tiring the muscles.
She told us "We are not here to just do more and more asanas, we want to improve our perception, our sensation in asanas. Props help us to become more sensitive. The emotional centre is in the chest – once you go into back bendings, you go into that vastness, once you go into that vastness, you can withstand any kind of pressure and strain. Emotional strength comes with the practice of back bending – you can meet any kind of calamity with a calm mind – that is the beauty of back bends".
After class I headed for Westonbirt Arboretom -where my partner works as a woodland coppicer - for an evening walk. Quiet and serene and over-flowing with bluebells and wild garlic in full bloom. Its always beautiful there, but never more so than now, as it is closed to the public and foot fall is much less so it's really burst into life and there is a strange kind of hush where nature has once again been able to come to the forefront.
We spent the evening with our remaining 3 daughters - 2 at university in London and Exeter respectively and one reluctantly furloughed in Bristol - playing an online pictionary game which gave us all a good laugh. Looking forward to our last day with Abhi tomorrow, where I am going to be one of the panelists, so under the spotlight!
Day 6 IYNAUS Zoom Intensive – Supported backbends
Swastikasana invocation With each inhalation from the bottom sternum, ascend up.
Supta Tadasana arms over the head. You feel a length, an elongation in your trunk. As you inhale, let the bottom chest move away from the stomach. Demo - Legs bent, brace the feet against the floor and use the push of your heels, to lengthen the chest away from the legs. Create a traction where the upper back moves downwards and the anterior body rolls upwards, pubis towards the sternum.
Trikonasana facing wall, top arm bent, hand on the wall - Demo – Standing poses with the backbend action. The habit of the body is for the chest to sink downwards and the back body to rise upwards into the neck – the exact opposite needs to happen. Upper back needs to move toward the lower back and right buttock take it deep inward. On the front body, move the pubis to the bottom ribs, bottom ribs to the sternum, bottom sternum to the top sternum, let the anterior body get unfolded in that direction and take the head back – chin back, eyes towards the forehead, as if the back of your head is going to come back and touch your own buttock (don’t turn the head to look at the ceiling, it should be like a neck curvature). Complete extension of the front body, that is known as Purvottana.
Parsvakonasana facing wall - Similar action. Lengthen the entire anterior body, keep the buttock deep into the body and take the head back, move the chin away from the chest. Open up the sternum, open up the pelvic area. If you feel pelvic area, pubic area is still not opening, bring the hand in front of the bent leg and go for that anterior body opening. Learn to search for the neglected area.
Baddha Konasana back to the wall. Guruji taught us yoga - and asanas and pranayama happened to be the medium he used to teach yoga. We need to establish a communication. Where do the skin / muscles /tissues get caught, you have to search your own body to find where you get caught, what part is not opening? Where is your anterior body having a resistance to this extension?
Ardha Chandrasana facing wall - Left toes anchored on the wall. Read your body. From lower abdomen to the navel, am I moving towards the head side? Navel to the bottom ribs, am I moving head side? Bottom sternum to the middle sternum, middle sternum to the top sternum, open UP in that area. Develop the perception to find out where the body is locked, then you will be able to assist other people. Standing leg buttock towards the groin and then entire front body has to move.
Lie flat supine and feel the pelvic / pubic area. Then roll blanket tightly and put the narrow end of the roll under the tailbone (not in lumbar). Compare the sensation in the pelvic / pubic. Can you feel how much more this area has unfolded? Let the blanket make you sensitive in the tailbone sacrum. There was a question about pain in the tailbone. Try this and find out if it works for you, if it feels worse then it’s too direct a correction, you need to lie prone instead and learn to release the muscles away from the centre. Start with prone savasana releasing the spinal muscles away from the waist. Those muscles may need rest before direct correction.
Setubandha with bolster in back chest. Fold your legs in swastikasana. Do you notice extension coming in your thigh area? That area is tight – it’s an unused area. All these areas need to be opened up for back bending asanas. Bear that pain and move the knees further down “Stretch that stretch! Stretch that stretch further!”
Supta Virasana horizontal bolster like paryankasana. If the bolster is too thick, put a folded blanket under the buttocks so it’s less of a climb (supta swastikasana alternative) head can be thrown back, but take head support if there is strain. Learn to spread the diaphragm. Quieten the abdomen and see the diaphragm does not puff upwards.
We are taking this supportive route into back bending because I don’t want you to go all out in terms of strong muscular action – we should not be doing unsupported urdhva dhanurasana, dwi pada viparita dandasana at this time. Now is the time to use props and take supported back bends to explore the other aspects of back bending. Guruji used to stay in DPVD unsupported for 10 minutes, because he could BREATHE. For better immunity the adrenals should be stimulated without tiring the muscles.
Chair Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana (or bend over the edge of the bed etc). Legs bent, hands pressing back rest of chair. Observe the breathing and find out if there is hardness – sometimes this hardness comes because the back is unsupported, there is a big gap under there. Recollect yesterday’s supta virasana – so you’re going to lift up and then go back, moving the bottom dorsal AWAY from the lumbar (this lessened the coiling, but made the breathing definitely softer). This better breathing will enable you to stay in the pose longer and your independent back bending will also improve – imagine when you are dropping back from tadasana to urdhva dhanurasana this direction does not come, in the midway stage fear comes of falling, that area shrinks, breathing is impoverished, body shaky – you want to come out. Patanjali talks about sorrow, shakiness, irregular breathing as the problems which accompany the obstacles to yoga.
2nd attempt -Increase the height on the seat of the chair, especially those that are taller. folded blanket etc. Go back with the same action of lengthening lower dorsal away from lumbar. Do not let the diaphragm get gathered in the centre, like pranayama the diaphragm has to spread sideways. Use the palms against the back rest and roll the shoulders. Press the heels into the floor to push the body so that the anterior body extends pubis towards the throat. Diaphragm soft. Exhale a little forcefully to take the diaphragm down. Ideally 6-7 minutes here.
3rd attempt – lower back /sacrum curvature. Sacrum on the edge of the seat of the chair and more height still (bolster?) in her demo she felt her diaphragm became hard and breathing laborious. The solution was to exhale in that area and move the anterior body - chest and abdomen towards the floor. Once we were in the pose, she encouraged us to speak and find out whether there was strain in the voice. Take any supports you need to stay there comfortably so that you can improve your breathability in this pose. I want you to WANT to stay in the pose. Long stay (Bad backs, take twistings on the chair).
We are not here to just do more and more asanas, we want to improve our perception, our sensation in asanas. Props help us to become more sensitive. You must be very sharp for backbend practice – discriminative power, sharpness of intelligence. Spinal muscles and spinal nerves interpenetrate – they are not touched in the same way in any other asanas. You have to understand positioning of the muscles and joints when you do back bending otherwise injuries are bound to come. The emotional centre is in the chest – once you go into back bendings, you go into that vastness, once you go into that vastness, you can withstand any kind of pressure and strain. Emotional strength comes with the practice of back bending – you can meet any kind of calamity with a calm mind – that is the beauty of back bends.
4th attempt –Higher height still - demo from panel member extending over edge of a very high bed. Sliding further and further over the edge (like the platform in Pune). The ideal height, from the sacrum to the spine it has to be almost perpendicular. A few minutes for us to do at home, noticing the diaphragm responds. If no room to extend the legs, do in swastikasana otherwise legs extending parallel to the floor.
Chair twists x 2 each side
AMSvanasana (If you have a pain in the back rope AMSvansasana or abdomen supported uttansana, for example bolster on a bed). Longer stay in the pose builds up your nerves, stamina and endurance. Not just physical health, your physiological health, your psychological health, your emotional health, your intellectual health. Guruji spoke of the 7 different layers (kosas) - staying in asanas develops all of these.
Supta Padangustasana 1 with belt – Both legs bent leg first and to remove the back bending pain, can you move from your right arch towards your right knee? That grounds the back, can you feel that? Spinal muscles rest.
2nd attempt – Both legs straight. Belt around heel works on the bony body. Belt around the toe mounds, it is a muscular effort.
If still back pain Pavanmuktasana otherwise Ardha Halasana thighs supported. Use your hands to move the sides of he neck away from the bolster. From the lower back move towards the feet, lift each leg and extend one at a time. Do not make yourself tight. Move your sternum towards the back body, so that you accept the asana even more. If the neck has shrunk, lengthen the sides of the neck again. Eyes closed and move the eyeballs away from the eyelids and give your eyes the rest. Let the throat rest on the bed of the neck – the moment the throat can relax, the mind can become quiet – thinking is speaking silently, it is not possible to think without words. The jalandhara bandha makes your throat quiet, it goes to its own abode.
Savasana supported on 3 folded blanket spine-wise (prone savasana if back pain). Centralise yourself properly. Hands in a simplified version of san mukhi mudra – palms drawing eyes from the top to the bottom and slightly away from the nose towards the ears. Very gently make this adjustment, in the same way when you want the baby to close its eyes, you draw the eyelids down very softly. Experiment to find the right pressure. As your eyes go into that darkness, see how the mind becomes still. When you are thinking, the eyes keep on moving. Ujayyii inhalations. The eyeballs should not hit your hands when you inhale. With the brain quieter now it can better observe the breath reaching the chest. Like the clouds spread in the vastness of the sky, let your inhalation spread in the vastness of your chest. Let the energy occupy the entire area that is available. As your eyes have been adjusted properly, all the sense organs quietened enjoy the state of the brain. Each day we have practiced ujayii but notice every day the flavour has been different.
Questions and Answers Notes:
Acid reflux – Supine poses (not fully flat, about 45 degree angle of trunk for example propped up against the viparita dandasana bench) arranged in such a way that there is proper separation, keep the top stomach down and the top chest has to move away from the top stomach. The chest area, from the diaphragm, has to get the space.
Glaucoma – use a bandage around the forehead. No abdominal asanas or twistings, these compressions should be avoided. No headstand for glaucoma or detatched retina – unless you have an experienced teacher with you that confidentally adjust you, then it is different. Viparita Dandasana can be introduced later on with the support of the bench, head / neck supported. Look down at floor in standing poses. Setubandha, chair sarvangasana and viparita karani all good for glaucoma.
Painful tailbone – First rest and then recovery. Then you can start on prone savasana, muscles spreading, prone supta pad 2. Depends on the cause. Afterwards standing asanas actively moving the tailbone in, providing the muscles are not shrinking towards the centre.
Hip pain – anantasana, parsva salabhasana – in Pune parsva salabhasana is done with the tailbone supported at the edge of the column.