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Day 22 - Abhijata Advanced Class - Pranayama

As I awoke this morning I realised it was Wednesday and we would be moving into Pranayama week. Oh yeah! I'm notoriously bad at remembering anything about Pranayama classes as the remembering part of my brain tends to be switched off, but luckily Cath C took notes which she shared for me to expand on and share with you.

Abhi gave various techniques to bring the breath to the forefront and to quieten and pacify the mind. I particularly enjoyed the learning in Chair Sarvangasana with the shins belted tightly together. When we practice Chair Sarvangasana back home (certainly in the UK) we tend to go for the softer version where the feet rest against the wall and you don't have to deal with the discomfort of the calves pressing into the back rest of the chair. However this is a slightly different pose - because the legs don't go as far back, it has a different effect - so perhaps it is time to get out of your comfort zone and try Chair Sarvangasana as it is often taught in Pune, in the centre of the room, to experience the teaching from this particular class.

We had to envisage that as a snake coils around it’s prey, we entwined the muscle to the bone, constricting the legs and making them absolutely firm. It really refined the separate 'compartments' of the body. Armpit chest came forwards away from the arms, shoulder rotation improved, sternum chest spread and opened, breath deepened.

Next we took legs vertical to Viparita Karani and exhaled to draw the pit of the legs and groins down towards the chair, then retaining this action on the inhalation. It really noticeably expanded the chest and the breath came up in a deep V. The abdomen became a vast, wide softly dipping plateau with an indescribable softness that is unique to Viprita Karani. We then took the legs to back of chair, exhaling thighs towards the feet and lengthening abdomen away from legs. We had to exhale as if the legs were entirely wrapped in bandages - mummified - and observe the change to the inhalation - it lengthened and deepened and became more 'all-encompassing'.

Finally we relaxed the arms over the head (We stayed like this for a minute or so). Then used our hands to manually lengthen back of skull away from neck, holding the hands there for some time. As the Jalandha Bandha deepened, I felt that my brain was so quiet almost as if it were an entirely separate entity, not involved with the body at all. This profound quietness as a result of making the brain genuinely submissive allowed the great expanse of the heart and breath to be experienced.

As you will imagine, people floated out of this class.

The first of our gang are leaving tomorrow, so we had a lovely farewell meal at Ram Krishna near the original Dorabjees. Really sorry to see people leave, but the party has got to end sometime.....

Day 22 – Abhijata Advanced Class Pranayama

  • Invocation in Swastikasana - 2 ways to begin a class: a) anticipation of the class b) awareness of what has come before. Or third option, where mind needs to be in the present, not past or future. Develop techniques to bring mind to the present - use the body to bring your mind here. Build up body mind complex to be more receptive to what is to follow. More pronounced when combining body and breath. Certain actions are most suited to inhalation or exhalation. Synchronise extension of spine / opening of chest with inhalation, releasing the brain cells, quietening of mind / face with exhalation accordingly.

  • AMVirasana

  • What you know versus what you think about pranayama are different (objective versus subjective experience). Let this be a subjective experience. Guruji said that when you have an established practice of Pranayama you’re like a ‘fish out of water’ if you miss a day.

  • Tadasana - eyes straight ahead and steady. Close eyes and see how much body is oscillating.

  • Focus on face/throat and observe how the breathing automatically changes and brain gets 'jerked' as you do: Urdhva Hastasana, Utkatasana, Urdhva Namaskarasana and Urdhva Baddangullyasana .

  • Then repeat Tadasana to Urdhva Baddangullyasana this time taking great care to keep the breath and brain smooth and steady.

  • Now - quickly without thinking, go to UH Padasana - Trikonasana, Parsvakonasana, Ardha Chandrasana, Virabhadrasana 1, Parsvottonasana and Parivrrta Trikonasana in a sequence all on one side and then all on the other.

  • Uttanasana to bring breathing back to normal.

  • 2nd attempt at standing pose sequence, this time stabilsing the intelligence by focussing on first observing and then maintaining the same abdominal length throughout: UH Padasana - Feel your chest - can brain feel the feeling inside the chest/feel the space. What is the length of the abdomen? Keep brain focussed on observing and maintaining the length of abdomen and trunk. R leg out, eyeballs steady to steady the intelligence to Trikonasana - go carefully and maintain that length. Parsvakonasana eye steady at eye level. Ardha Chandrasana - take your time and go for trunk length. Virabhadrasana 1 - look straight ahead. Parsvottonasana - Parivrtta Trikonasana in observation mode.

  • Tadasana- witness length from pubis to collar bones, breathing back to normal.

  • UH Padasana left side. Watch how abdominal length changes. You need to be able to subjectively observe. Train intelligence to observe and not just act – if you just follow instructions (Like a knee jerk reaction) you miss this chance. Neural pathways change when you go from action to observation mode.

  • Tadasana- observe - are you back on your heels? Are your shoulders back and symmetrical?

  • Guruji said that ‘Like money, our intelligence is a good servant, but a terrible master’. Observation, reflection and then calculated action, rather than allowing the intelligence to act reflexively.

  • Uttanasana

  • Prasarita Paddottonasana

  • Prasarita UH Padasana - stretch arms to sides and observe and compare – is one shoulder blade closer to the spine? Bulkier? Does it correspond to the arm which is shorter? Focus on improving the weaker arm.

  • Tadasana, eyes at eye level (if feeling weak or depressed, raise eyeballs slightly higher). Feel the skin on the neck just below the skull and make it absolutely soft, don’t let the skin there become hard.

  • 3rd attempt, this time just Trikonasna and Ardha Chandrasana now making the gaze absolutely steady and maintaining eyes in eye level throughout, so that the eyes only move in synchronisation with the body as it moves into the pose. Both sides. Is it a different mental state?

  • Uttanasana feet apart

  • AMSvanasana

  • Sirsasana on crown of head. Beginners will tend to rest more on the forehead, this is to be expected and should not be corrected at this stage. For more advanced practitioners, we need to rest on the crown of the head. When seated the ears are parallel, so that should also happen in Sirsasana. If you tilt the head back, energy moves from the tip of the nose to the bridge, when the head is level it moves from bridge to the tip – this should also be the case in Sirsasana. Brain has to observe and be neutral. Which side of skull is resting more on the floor? Come down and adjust as necessary – to know the mistake and to stay is an act of harm against the self – we do not accept others who try to harm us, so also we should not cause harm to ourselves. Don't go too far onto back of head, eyes should not look at the ceiling - this is also wrong action. Intelligence of seat of brain should be completely firm and not oscillate at all and rest on the ground. Bridge of nose must be parallel to the ground to quieten the brain. Don't put load on the fingers - indicates brain is becoming master. Upper eyelids, tongue, throat all passive. Energy of fingers descends and of spine ascends.

  • AMVirasana

  • Chair Viparita Dandasana 5 minutes – arm / leg placement I leave it to you to decide. Observe diaphragm (the sheaf of muscle which separates the chest and abdominal cavity). As you inhale the central diaphragm projects jnto t shirt and on exhalation it recedes away – it is pacified. This happens naturally with the exhalation, but now consciously augment that action by lengthening the exhalation with that intention. Diaphragm begins to go out to sides. If you are unable to detect that action take a rolled blanket spine wise.

  • Chair Sarvangasana - belt mid calves together if possible.

1) Like a snake coils around it’s prey, in that manner make the legs absolutely firm / constricted and coil the muscles to the bone. What effect does this have (It really refined the separate 'compartments' of the body. Armpit chest came forwards away from the arms, sternum chest opened, breath deepened).

2) Legs to vertical to Viparita Karani and move them down into chair. Exhale and draw the pit of leg and groins down towards the chair and retain action when you inhale. It really noticeably expanded the chest and the breath came up in a deep V. The abdomen became a vast, wide softly dipping plateau with an indescribable softness that is unique to Viprita Karani.

3) Take legs back again to back of chair. Exhale thighs towards feet, lengthen abdomen away from legs. Exhale as if legs are entirely wrapped in bandages - mummified - and observe change to inhalation - it lengthens and deepens and becomes more 'all-encompassing'.

4) Let the arms bend and take them over the head (We stayed like this for a minute or so). Then use hands to manually lengthen back of skull away from neck to deepen the Jalandara Bandha – you can keep your hands there for some time. As you inhale the head presses into the floor indicating the eyes are going towards the brain. So with the Jalandhara Bandha let the eyeballs look towards the sternum. Brain much quieter. Now deliberately make a mistake of doing a brain/eye led inhalation. Then lengthen back of head again (creating better JB) and see effect on the brain. As the Jalandha Bandha deepened, I felt that my brain was so quiet almost as if it were entirely separate entity, not involved with the body at all. This profound quietness as a result of making the brain genuinely submissive for the great expanse of the heart and breath to be experienced.

  • Swastikasana on vertical bolster. Ascend from lower spine with cupped hands. Take head to Jalandhara Bandha. Compare the weight on each hand fingertips – where weight is more on one side it indicates trunk is tilting, so balance and centralise yourself. Weight on thumb/index and little finger should also be equal. Brain is servant. Inhale and observe how tension comes to face and eyeballs lift towards the brain. As you inhale don't let eyeballs or pupils rise up. Observe change in quality and quantity of inhalation.

  • Change leg crossing. Keep tongue rested and undisturbed. Feel the space within and explore keeping things quiet - eyes tongue ears forehead etc

  • Lie flat in savasana and ensure you're absolutely straight on your mat. Bend legs and move buttocks away from waist so lumbar goes down and coccyx is nailed to floor. Lengthen legs one at a time very carefully - from inner buttock bone to heel and straighten, keeping coccyx stable. 1) Inhale forcefully from the brain without care and attention - can you see how intercostal muscles become hard so you can't inhale? 2) Let inhalation then start slowly and gradually expand - it will automatically lengthen. Skin from upper eyelid to lower eyelid had to be distended. Inhale without disturbing that adjustment. Inhalation must be started without any expression.

  • Intellect should be a receiving instrument. No breath should enter your lungs without your attention. If there's a physical jerk, there is an intellectual jerk. Both must remain soft and quiet.

  • Supta Swastikasana with vertical bolster or a pillow or blankets so there's no lumbar constriction. Don't press the head or use it as a fulcrum. Elongate back of skull to lengthen back of head. Let brain witness the inhalation. Any asymmetries you observe are because the body/head is not straight. Skin around sinus bones, forehead, cheeks should be completely passive. With gratitude observe the inhalation. Eyes should penetrate into the trunk/lungs. Skin between eyebrows should be absolutely soft and eyebrows releasing down.

  • Slowly come up and sit in Virasana (taking any supports needed to be comfortable). Collarbone wide, bring head to Jalandhara Bandha. Shoulder blades and trapezium down. 1st lumbar is fulcrum for sitting position. As you inhale create space from pubis to navel, navel to diaphragm, diaphragm to sternum and sternum to throat. Can be done as segments. Like climbing up a staircase. Navel should never drop when you jnhale. Keep kidneys up as you inhale. Create space in vertebrae to create freedom in the body. Facial skin must completely hang down as you inhale. Back and front of brain should be balanced and meet in the centre .

  • Flat Savasana - rest brain and spine.

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