Day 3 - IYA UK Convention with Abhijata
Another wonderful day of learning at the convention. Abhi's mental agility was on full display as she ran several side classes concurrently with the main class, for menstruation, menopause and neck pain. On top of which, throughout the class, she took as many questions as she could squeeze in, including one on why we use Sanskrit names, when English names would be clearer. She made us all smile (and in my home anyway - a silent cheer for her frank and unapologetic answer) "Because that’s the name! My name is Abhijata – it means ‘Born in a noble family’ it means ‘A Flawless Gem’ so how will you address me? “Excuse me Mrs Flawless Gem, excuse me Mrs Born in a Noble family’ will you say that!? A name is a name! Why do we use Sanskrit names? Because those are the proper names! "
Abhijata - Born into a noble family, a flawless gem - she was aptly named.
In transcribing the class, I have given the questions and answers at the time they occurred, because at times, they were an integral part of the class as she gave us poses to do to get a tangible experience of what she was explaining.
Those of you that are following the blog will have noticed that it has taken me a very long time to get this third day published. Sadly, now that I am working full-time, it is nigh on impossible to find the time to do the write-ups. They take a long time and unlike when I am in Pune, I have all my work and home duties to attend to too - so no promises on Day 4 as first I have to get my company accounts completed and filed. Sigh.
Day 3 IYA UK Convention with Abhijata
Swastikasana invocation - Change the order of crossing your legs, so that side you are not comfortable with, you get used to, because when you only sit in one way, that shin, that ankle, develops differently. Sit straight, sit tall, widen yourself, lengthen yourself. From inside your bottom sternum ascend upwards, thoracic spine into the body. Shoulder blades, trapezius strongly descending down. Quickly gather yourself in this sitting posture
She began with sitting in Virasana 10 minutes of answering questions received from attendees.
Q) Why no twisting with fibroids and twists? They don’t appear to cause any problem
A) There are many factors that are going to influence this situation. Your age, your menstrual condition – as a general rule these twistings are avoided because they are closed abdomen – the abdomen is made hard and squeezed which is not a comfortable condition. Open twisting can be done, the abdomen is free, it is not pressing - postures like virasana, baddha konsasna, upavista konasana, bharadvajasana – the abdomen is not squeezed against the thigh, the abdomen is not caught and thus can also be done in menstruation. Ardha Matsyendrasana 2 can also be done – the abdomen is still free. For women with gynaecological problems, fertility issues, sometimes this asana is given as a treatment – learning to lift the spine, lengthen the abdominal walls, lift up the chest and turn so that the anterior lift of the spine is attained. You can stay in touch with the twisting category of asanas with these open twists.
Q) How to work with Osteopenia & Osteoporosis
A) With age the bones tend to become weak, the calcium loss is there. The clue for osteopenia is the muscles which are surrounding that affected area must be strengthened. For instance, if the shoulder joint is affected – which are the surrounding areas? I have to work on the collar bones – Abhi demonstrates arching back in swastikasana, opening up the anterior chest, you have to widen the collar bone, the clavicular area, you have to move the shoulder blades into the body, you have to lift the intercostal muscles on the front, the ribs on the front body ASCEND them up and widen the shoulder corners.
This way you have work on the surrounding areas to strengthen them so that the load does not fall entirely on that affected bone.
For osteoporosis where the bone is becoming weak, it does not get fixed into the socket well – that is why dislocation is not uncommon.
Working on hip socket:
Lie down in supta pad 1, bend the right leg. Say the weakness is there in the hip area. First feel the action when you take the belt to the front of the foot, to the mounds of the toes. It’s a muscular extension you get in the front of the leg. Now take the belt to the heel, bend the right leg, right outer thigh, descend it downwards, as though that belt is pulling the entire leg downwards. This is the right femur bone, fixing into the socket – fix the right femur bone into the socket and slowly stretch out the right leg. This kind of action, where the bone is fixed into the socket is needed for osteoporosis, otherwise we just straighten the leg where it gets thrown away from the socket. Left side, bend the leg, fix the outer thigh down, even the inner thigh down, but more on the outer because that is the fixation area, a strong fixation has to happen there – now even though you are going to stretch the leg, do NOT allow the foot to go up – as though you are going to keep the foot there only to stretch the leg – you feel the contact of the lower back on the ground, waist on the floor, getting grounded.
Working on the shoulder socket:
If you are working in urdhva dhanurasana and it is the shoulder which you are are working at, then the upper arm bone has to get fixed into the socket. Raise the arms to urdhva hastasana it is these muscles (see pic) on the back of the upper arm, this area has to be pulled downwards. Bend the arms and now pull these muscles down, down, down, down and straighten the elbows. You feel a difference? A firmness in the arms – this is the arm getting fixed IN to the socket. Release, arms down and now just stretch the arms, you don’t feel that density in the arms.
So depending upon which joint is weak, which bone is weak, for osteoporosis you need to look at the asanas with this perspective.
Q) Is twisting suitable for women with bladder weakness?
A) No. When bladder weakness is there, do not go for twisting. All the asanas that you do, you have to pull up that lower body, IN to you. Stand in tadasana now with a brick between your legs, brick on its narrow edge, feet together (see pic). So now women with prolapsed uterus, people with weakness in the bladder, frequent miscarriages – all those problems where the lower organic body is sinking down. Now from the brick, you need to suck yourself upwards. Lift UP those inner abdominal organs – whatever is above the brick, lift it UP away from the brick. You see that inner control? This is needed for bladder control. Twisting is not going to help – if you have a back pain with bladder issues, it’s different. If no back pain and bladder issues are present then better to use the time to concentrate on healing yourself.
Frequent miscarriages where the lower organic body is sagging downwards, they have to do inversions with the brick and belts tied around the legs - 2 belts to thighs, 2 belts to the shins 4-6 belts (belts are needed in inversions otherwise with the brick between the thighs, you won’t be able to join the legs). Sirsasana, sarvangasana, full arm balance, supported viparita dandasana, supported setubandha sarvangasana all these asanas should be done for bladder issues.
Now to main body of class:
AMSvanasana keep the legs a little apart, open up the backs of the thighs, open up the back of the knees, arms upwards – arms getting fixed into the socket, the back of the upper arm muscles, let it go IN to the shoulder. The upper arm muscle, LIFT it up into the shoulder socket, triceps lift UP! deltoids lift UP! from the wrists the entire arms have to go upwards. From the wrists go oonn pulling the arms upwards.
AMVrksasana first preparing in urdhva hastasana with the hands in full arm balance position, so fingers pointing back and palm facing the ceiling. Be on your heels, buttocks into the body, eyes looking straight in front, knees up, thighs up. The back of the upper arm has to descend downwards, from the elbow end to the shoulder end – pull it down! Pull it down! (repeatedly). Now you are going for full arm balance and in the same manner, the back of the upper arm has to go upwards to the shoulder. Back of the upper arm towards the shoulder! (repeatedly).
How to learn handstand for people who can’t get up?
One thing that you have to understand when you are attempting to jump up, we think only about the foot going up. To learn this action practice jumping from Uttanasana to AMSvanasana repeatedly. Do not think about jumping with the feet, but from the outer thighs / outer hips. Imagine God has not given you anything under the hips, your body ends there – so now when you jump back to AMSvanasana, let that part of the body be thrown, not your feet.
Menstruation ardha chandrasana with motion coming up and down repeatedly with the top leg, not by throwing the foot up, but by lifting the THIGH up.
The non-menstruation group, try both of these poses. Learn to shift the focus, learn the difference between what is foot lifting and what is thigh lifting.
Now you notice, when you lift with your thigh you have better access to the entire leg. For instance:
Virabhadrasana 3 supported chest supported on tall stool or similar. Compare lifting the foot and lifting the thigh repeatedly. If only the foot is lifted, the leg is bent, the leg is weak. Now toes extending downwards and lift the front thigh to the back thigh to raise the leg. The leg becomes straighter, firmer.
AMVrksasana bent legs jumping - bolster at wall, jumping 2 legs NOT to full pose but just swinging the hips up to bump the wall repeatedly– I am not looking at whether you can reach the final position or not, but I am looking at whether the HIPS moving or not? If the hip is not touching, one bolster is not enough, you can take 2 bolsters and you have to judge where to keep the palms. This is to answer the question on how to learn to jump up to AMVrksasana - It’s like learning to ride a bicycle – it’s one trick that you need to learn and then it stays with you. Menstruation - continue with chest resting Virabhadrasana 3.
AMVrksasana straight legs jumping up with one leg – but again I want you to do with this gathering of the hip and thigh not to just throw the foot up to full arm balance. Hip and thigh GO towards the wall (repeatedly). For those who have not been able to go up to full arm balance, at least one leg touch. Once you become a master of that, second leg also has to take off. If you do not go up easily to full arm balance, do not worry about right leg, left leg, just go with the one that is comfortable. You have to learn to mobilise the hip and mobilise the thigh.
Upavista Konasana – We look at reality based on our condition. If we can attain full arm balance, we think it is fine, but if we cannot jump up to full arm balance we attach a certain heaviness, a reluctance to the pose. What is your mental state when you think of an asana you are extremely comfortable with? Now think of an asana you are extremely uncomfortable with, one you don’t even attempt in public because you don’t want anyone to witness you trying to do the pose – what is your mental heaviness when you think of that? It is only a yogi who can look at reality, otherwise we are caught in our prejudices -the reality of full arm balance is tainted by our biases, that no longer has its independent existence. As a student of yoga, the asanas become a wonderful laboratory for us to train our mind into looking at reality and here props are of great value.
Ardha Sirsasana and Urdhva Prasarita Eka Pada Sirsasana where the top leg goes into classical Eka Pada Sirsasana vertical leg, with minimum lift of the bottom leg from the floor. Did you understand the game? One leg up, the bottom leg is on the floor, so top leg is not in classical version (it is leaning forward), then bring top leg to vertical and bottom leg will come off the floor, but it should not take the lead to come up – it is the top leg which has to lift, it is the abdominal walls which have to lift. It is the waist corners which have to go UP! not the bottom leg which has to lift. It is NOT jumping up one leg at a time, I am asking you to transition from Urdhva Parasita Eka Pada Sirsasana to eka pada sirsasana.
Some people are unable to go up – they have to bend the bottom leg to reach the pose or they have to come with the front (top) leg down and jump up.
Urdhva Dandasana with support for feet (1 chair and 4 foams 2 by 2) so that legs are parallel to the floor, feet apart. Back thigh, back knee LIFT up! Thoracic spine into the body. Front thigh to the back thigh, shin bone to the calf. Roll onto the tips of your toes and SUCK outer thigh to outer hip. The fleshy, bulky part of the upper thigh has to MOOVE towards the hip, that has to be SUCKED towards the hips. Roll on your toes, so that your outer thigh goes that way. Identify where your bottom buttock and upper back thigh meet, from the gluteal area, there has to be a backward sucking – from that buttock bone you have to go AWAY from the thigh. The entire outer thigh AND back thigh has to MOOVE backwards. Osteoporosis, osteopenia where thigh going IN to the socket is needed – it is why urdhva dandasana strengthens the spine. It is an extremely important asana for pregnant women. When Geetaji taught the Women’s classes, full arm balance half way, sirsasana half way (urdhva dandasana) was taken so regularly, because she always said that women with all the household work, begin to lose the strength in the spine. Very often these asanas would be taken so that they get that strength in the lumbar spine. (Menstruating women sitting in ardha padmasana to observe).
Urdhva Dandasana with support rolling hips so much back that feet become light and stool could be taken away and for those that are ready, going up 2 legs into sirsasana. Thigh INTO the hips! Lumbar LONG! Waist LONG! IF you want to try lifting up to sirsasana with 2 legs you can, don’t jump! Knees poker stiff! If this is something that you are used to doing in your practice, now try in open palm sirsasana (3 point headstand). I hope you understood, what is that thigh, coming IN towards the hips. Take a break.
Those that could not go up with two legs, you now can try with one leg. Take one leg up and now the bottom leg thigh has to be SUCKED into the hip. Knee FIRM! Thigh FIRM! The bottom leg outer thigh SUCK into the hip and balance in eka pada sirsasana – let the foot leave that support and balance there. Gather yourself on the spine like this. I hope you understood the difference, not to just jump up, thigh has to pull back to raise the foot, balance in that eka pada sirsasana.
Now for practitioners once you are comfortable with using the chair, a height lower than the seat of the chair should be taken to progress eg viparita karani box if the down leg bends, the height under the foot is not sufficient for you. If you are able to balance with the leg straight and abdomen tall, maintaining the length of the spine, inch by inch you have to challenge yourself to take less height. Compare Uday’s pose when he takes the single brick versus the height of the low stool – his waist is not so tall.
Now that you have learned how the thigh can move into the socket, go for that action in AMVrksasana and Pinca Mayurasana and learn how the thigh can go up with that control. Learn how to jump up, not just a wayward throwing of the legs and notice whether the control is better. This thigh getting fixed into the socket, comes into many categories of asanas.
Trikonasana from the outer ankle to the outer thigh, suck up. If the thigh falls down put toes up on brick – the moment the toes get lifted upwards, your entire leg gets lifted upwards. This is helpful for hip pain, for example, during menopause. The foot up on a brick to mobilise the outer thigh muscle and now the outer thigh should also be sucked to the inner thigh. Outer thigh coming closer to the inner thigh AND also climbing upwards.
When the muscles go towards the bones like this, you take the blood flow toward the marrow. We need good circulation for the marrow – it is the bone marrow where your blood cells are being formed, so even for people with blood cancer, Guruji used to take asanas where the muscles feed the bone. Even one man with blood cancer, she saw Guruji give urdhva dandasana, feet supported but the thigh flesh going up, because the thigh bone will have the biggest marrow – so all those asanas are needed for good circulation, good blood cell production (like you did in trikonasana for osteoporosis / osteopenia, same action in vira 2, parsvakonasana, ardha chandrasana this thigh has to be going towards the socket).
For advanced asanas like eka pada koundinyasana, eka pada bhakasana for all these, the thigh flesh cannot be thrown away. Mayurasana, you need a strong, compact grip there in your hips.
Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
Q) Why do we use Sanskrit Names?
A) Because that’s the name! My name is Abhijata – it means ‘Born in a noble family’ it means ‘A Flawless Gem’ so how will you address me? “Excuse me Mrs Flawless Gem, excuse me Mrs Born in a Noble family’ will you say that!? A name is a name! Why do we use Sanskrit names? Because those are the proper names!
Q) Lady with asthma what to do?
A) If breathless now go for supported forward bends. If not breathless now, go for supported ustrasana.
Q) In Urdhva Dandasana should the head and buttock be in line?
A) To begin with they will not be in line, because you have to learn this thigh suction. Let the buttock go slightly back, that way the legs will learn to balance.
Q) Parivrtta Trikonasana always brings a pain in the trapezius, what to do?
A) It is likely that you will also get this pain in ustrasana unless your thoracic spine is concave. The cause of your pain is these muscles coming up (indicates trapezius muscles hunching up into the neck). In ustrasana I want you to get a good clarity of the shoulder blades and trapezius.
Here the class split into 4 groups:
Ustrasana supported for those with breathing trouble, stress, recovery from illness, followed by chair viparita dandasana with back of head / neck supported when the class moves onto urdhva dhanurasana. Edge of bolster placed sideways into the neck, so that the vagus nerve is supported (see pic). Supporting in this way is an extremely relaxing pose for the brain (good for thyroid issues too).
Menopause / hot flushes- Uttanasana, AMSvanasana, Prasarita Paddotonasana all head rested, Ardha Chandrasana wall support.
Menstruation – Forward bending asanas, head supported
Ustrasana unsupported for those who are fine. 3 attempts at least. Arch your back, middle buttock in. Final attempt we will all do together. Come to a kneeling position. Shoulder blades, trapezius AWAY from the neck (repeated), middle buttock forward and now to come up – shoulder blades, trapezius AWAY from the neck, chest up and come up.
Urdhva Dhanurasana 2 or 3 attempts on your own to begin. Some of you may be needing supports, if you can’t push up from the floor – bolsters, bricks, stool, bench, chair. If you cannot do urdhva dhanurasana at all, Chair Viparita Dandasana.
Attempt 4 Ready? Body is free enough? Now I am going to give instructions and conduct urdhva dhanurasana. Before you place the palms, hold your ankles and drag your feet closer to your hips. Now take the palms near the shoulders. Come up to urdhva dhanurasana pressurising your heels. PRESS the heels and come up to urdhva dhanurasana. From the outer knee to the outer thigh, suck up the thigh! The thighs have to come outer thigh to outer hip – what you did in urdhva dandasana. Outer thigh to the outer hip! (repeatedly) and come down.
Attempt 5 Now if you want, take some height under the feet. Some of you may not have been able to draw outer thigh to outer hip, feet higher up will help. If you cannot push up with your feet on the raise, first push up from the floor and then walk your feet onto the blocks. Press the inner heels and drag the outer thighs to the outer hips!
Attempt 6 Here we looked at Jess. In these conditions when you are working on the legs so strongly, to lessen the distance, better to walk in with the hands (rather than the feet). 1) Walk in with the hands 2) Inner calf and outer calf down, don’t push your chest forward. 3) Back of the thigh which is near the knee, LIFT UP! inner calf and outer calf down. 4) Maintaining the inner calf and outer calf down, outer thigh towards the outer hip.
Attempt 7 Inner heel, outer heel, inner calf, outer calf, beginners go on lifting outer thigh, outer buttock UP. The others, pressing heel and calf downwards, now wait there – this outer hip, perpendicularly UP, perpendicularly lift UP the outer hip, don’t jostle here and there, STRAIGHT UP!! STRAIGHT UP!! STRAIGHT UP!!
Attempt 8 There is a bottom end of the outer thigh which is closer to the floor, there is an upper end to the outer thigh, which is closer to the ceiling. Now you have to lift from the bottom to the top! Bottom to the top! Bottom to the top! See what a great height you get.
The question may come, why should we bother about the intricacies of the pose? Why should we bother about all these techniques? The human mind loves to go all over. To focus, to concentrate is a difficult task. In urdhva dhanurasana when you concentrated on your outer thigh, outer hip, it was a call to your senses of perception, your organs of action to work in unison towards that action. So your entire embodiment – your body, your breath, your mind was all integrated towards that common goal. Yoga is Union – but for this union to take place, communication has to be there. Your inner thigh and outer thigh should be able to communicate with each other. Communication, connection, integration all these happen in this manner. The various aspects and techniques of the asanas take you on this path – from connection towards union.
Those retiring from back bends supta pad 1 & 2
Menopause group – upavista konasana and baddha konasana seated with back to wall 2-3 mins each pose.
Urdhva Dhanurasana 3 more attempts for those with weakness in the shoulders / arms that can’t straighten/ can’t lift up. 2 bricks for hands 2nd height sideways to wall, bolster for spine, head in gap between bolster and wall (see pic). Don’t think you have to go towards the wall – you have to straighten your arms away from the wall – come on your feet. Just straighten the arms, leave the bolster and come onto the legs. 2nd attempt crown of the head straight down, look at the floor and now push yourself onto your legs, straighten the arms away from the wall, LIFT the buttock up and come a little closer to the wall. Everybody try even if you can do this – 10 years down the line who knows? Or maybe you have students who can’t go up. Just straightening the arms and com