Day 5 - IYNAUS Autumn Sangha with Abhijata
Some lovely pranayama for our final day with Abhi. She took the approach that she often has during my stays in Pune, of keeping the preparatory asanas dynamic and demanding so that we stay sharp and present, not drifting off into a dreamy state where we're no longer attentive, as can often be the case in a pranayama class. This approach suits me, as I have poor energy flow in my body and especially my spine / back body (perhaps due to health conditions, or indeeed perhaps, why I have the health conditions in the first place). I particularly benefitted from the standing on the seat of the chair in a kind of chair chatush, where we had to cut the feet and arms down and lift the back body up so that there was a clear separation between the armpit which belonged to the arm and the armpit that belonged to the back body. It was intense work, but I felt a welcome surge of clarity in my energy body when we came down. It's such a relief to me, that through yoga, I have finally found ways to feel excellent in a body that is naturally inclined to feeling rubbish.
She began the session by answering some of the questions that had been submitted by the attendees and I was moved to hear her very humble answer to the question asked by a teacher who was struggling with waves of doubt about her teaching. Abhi explained that when she compares her contribution to that of Guruji, Geetaji and Prashantji that it feels 'like such a small drop' that she often wonders what she is doing. I have written many times about my appreciation of Abhi's teaching and I think she does an amazing job of taking the learning that she has received from each of them and bringing it to us in such a vibrant and comprehensible form. I guess it's normal for each of us to feel insignificant in the face of the teachers who have inspired us, but I feel she really illustrates how our 'little drop' can bring so much to our own students.
I hope you have enjoyed reading about the classes (especially those whose job / children / finances mean they are unable to attend). I always write these blogs in the spirit of sharing and want nothing in return, though for the first time here, I have added a 'Buy me a Coffee' button after the sequence. This basically is a way of giving a small financial thank you for the work involved and any contributions will go towards my topping up my rather drastically depleted income for the Covid period. Feel free to ignore or contribute as is right for you. I continue to keep my fingers crossed that at some point in the future I will be back in Pune and in blog mode.
Day 5 – IYNAUS Autumn Sangha with Abhijata
Abhi started with answering some questions.
1) Post Covid will she consider offering some online sessions? Abhi - It is something that she will consider for sure, but let’s see how it goes.
2) A 7 year old recently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, can yoga be useful? Abhi - Is he/ she interested in yoga? If yes, then between ages of 7-10 yoga can be introduced playfully (too young and tender for a serious approach). Twistings and inversions will be essential later on.
3) A lady who had cataract surgery many years ago – after day 1 of this workshop her eye became very red and she wants to know why and what should be done? Abhi - Does it happen every time you do inversions, or was it just that day alone? If it always red then that must be addressed, if it was just that day alone, unlikely to be a cataract from many years ago causing a problem now - more clarification needed, get in touch.
4) Clarification questions on AMS – a)what does Abhi mean when in AMS she says “Back ribs up” – Abhi – I mean back ribs up towards the buttocks. b) Does bottom sternum down mean straight down towards the floor or towards the pubis? Abhi – Down towards the floor – up and down do not change regardless of your orientation in the pose, whether in tadasana or sirsasana, down is always towards the floor and up is always towards the ceiling.
5) Inflammation in eyes and rhinus caused by unknown allergy, will inversions aggravate the situation? Abhi – Is it a recurring problem? You have mentioned you have a daily practice of inversions, so in the some ways you have answered your own question – if your daily practice is not worsening the situation then you are okay, however inflammation in the eyes and sirsasana don’t go together (dryness can be dealt with) so maybe you could try rope sirsasana instead of independent sirsasana.
6) Arthritis in the hips – when to push through the stiffness and when to maintain the health and nourishment of the hip joint. Abhi – It’s a balance – develop the understanding between what is a bearable pain and what is a pain which is not doing you any good. Pain is of two types: pain for pleasure or pain for pain. In the first, it is like a medical procedure (jab or surgery) that you have to go through in order to achieve a helpful outcome, is pain for pleasure. Pain for pain is enduring pain for no good outcome – like a torture – do not endure this and think that it is tapas, NO! pain for pain is not going to do you any good. Now arthritis in the hips, baddha konasana versus padmasana action – you have to decide – if you have the mobility you can go for it, but while doing the posture, you will know, you have to observe whether that pain is damaging the joint, or is it giving you a healing, soothing sensation, even though the pain is there? One clue to the final answer to that question is to see what you FEEL the next day, the day after that? Because when there is muscular pain – like you may have experienced after day 1, day 2 – there is pain the next day, but then that pain fades down – then it is a pain for pleasure – the muscles worked hard for the health of the body, so that is good. But if you experience a pain that is not going down the graph, then you need to revisit that situation.
7) Pain in the groin in seated forward extensions due to hip arthritis- should I avoid going deeper into the postures? Abhi – Hip and groin are neighbours, so in forward bends you’ll have to see that hip joints are closer to each other and groins are away from each other. Try this action now – stand up in tadasana, with the brick between the inner thighs and take the feet as close as possible. You will know that the groins go away from each other – so you should have your position in forward bends such that, the groins are always moving towards the thigh side and not hitting against each other. So even in the twisting postures, some people get a pain in the groin, they get a pain in the lower back – that is often because the groins are rubbing against each other – they should not rub against each other, but give each other the space. Use this clue for your forward bends.
8) Sciatic pain in parivrrta upavista konasana and janu sirsasana. Abhi – At that time what you can do is work on your sciatica such that you give some respite – do not push through. The back of the thigh has to be rested on the ground, if there is a gap you can fill it with a thin blanket – that padding is allowed, but lifting the knee up to bend the knee is not.
9) Nausea after sarvangasana –Could be something you ate or poor digestion. If it’s a one-off occurrence don’t try to read too much into it. (This is my own note, not Abhi’s – remember asanas are to be done on an empty stomach, 4 hours after full meal, 2 hours after light snack minimum).
10) Question to Abhi personally – Do you ever feel empty and disconnected in your teaching? do you ever feel waves of doubt? Have you ever thought about not teaching anymore? The availability of so many online classes has been a little chaotic and meant that own practice and inner connection has suffered. As a certified teacher, I feel pressure to keep up or make my classes amazing – sometimes I feel my practice becomes a tool for my teaching – have you ever fallen into that trap? Sometimes I don’t know what my own practice needs anymore – surely I’m not the only one! Abhi – When I think of all Guruji did, all Geetaji did and all Prashantji did and is doing – It makes me wonder what I am doing as it seems to be such a small drop, so in that sense I have often wondered what I am doing. Do I feel empty? NO but when I read myself in reference to the three of them, it feels – oh! this not enough – Guruji gave us so much. Guruji taught us to speak only from our experience, he has often said, do not try to prove. Do not worry about what the others are doing, because at the end of the day, you can only be the best at who you are. So instead of worrying about the others or comparing yourself with others, or trying to prove yourself to others – what you should be doing is what Guruji said – be true to yourself, be honest and your practice should be your substrate, your practice should be your clue not just sometimes! It has to be the clue, it has to be the substrate, every time. I remember Guruji telling me not to speak a word of what I have not experienced – so that should make it simple, there is so much out there – but what I have experienced, I should stick to that, deliver the goods there, so that makes it much simpler. When I try to impress, when I try to do very well, it seems overwhelming – but when I just try to do what I know, it’s more comfortable.
AMS Back ribs up means to you have to learn to lift the back of the ribs up towards the buttocks. Open the backs of the knees. The sides of the trunk have to go UP. Kneel down (to all fours) and open the palms and soles of the feet well – the palms and the soles of the feet have to be fully extended, fully expanded. Go to AMS Each rib on your front body has to move away from the dorsal. So the entire spinal area from the dorsal to the tailbone, you have to push it towards the anterior body. Anterior body going towards the legs. Exhale and move in that manner. Come down. In the next attempt of AMS you are going to open the back of your knees. Go to AMS open up the back of the knees, open up the back of the thighs. The back of the thighs, they remain, kind of dull. Open the back of the thighs, to open the back of the knees. If you do not open the back of the thighs, the backs of the knees, the lungs cannot open – that’s the connection – it’s a distant connection, but it’s a connection. DEMO pointing out the area at the bottom of the back thigh, just above the back knee. Guruji would often say this area remains dull, shrunk. So now in AMS I want to deliberately mobilise your entire body, such that you open up this area. And when you do that, you will experience how your trunk, how your side ribs, front ribs, front body, side body – they all respond to that. AMS Open up the back of the thighs well, only then you can open up the lungs. To get this action STAMP the outer edges of the feet close to the heels STAMP that foot bone strongly. Push that outer foot bone back towards the heel and stamp it down! This action is connected to the chest. The frontal ankle HIT BACK and push it down. The back of the heels, push them down. Use the wrist pressure to get this action – you want to lift your fingers to get the wrists to push, do that! And while you are doing that, feel the evenness in the inner and outer thighs. Before you come down, one last time, the outer edges of the feet, especially close to the heels BACK and DOWN open the back of the knees, BACK and DOWN open the back of the thigh.
Uttansasana Now in Uttanasana also open up the back of the knees, open up the back of the thighs in that manner. Suck the quadriceps up and descend the hamstrings down (repeatedly). Bend forward to such an extend that you feel like you are toppling, wrists down if you can. Walk back to
AMS Once again open up the back of your thighs. Now mentally measure the breadth of the breath. What is the measurement? How broad is it? Now mentally measure the breadth of the back of the thighs, near the knees. Observe how your action comes there. Especially the middle (back) thigh OPEN IT UP! Walk back to
Uttanasana prepare for sirsasana – widen the arms a little, widen the shoulders a little.
Sirsasana (menstruation chair viparita dandasana) I want a similar opening in the back of the thighs. Lengthen your legs upwards and whatever you did in AMS in Uttansasna DO THAT! Open up the back of the thighs! and what you will notice is that this makes the inner and outer thighs longer. The inner legs shrink in sirsasana. So now when you open the back of the thighs, your inner and outer thighs become of an equal length. Now measure how long is the centre of the back thigh? How long is my inner and outer back thigh? I want your inner and outer back of the thigh, to be as long as your centre back of the thigh. Take the legs a little apart and roll the groins in. With the broadening of the back of the thighs, LIFT your inner and outer banks of the thighs and join the legs together. Now come to the upper arms. Lift the outer, upper arm! Now rotate the upper arms – inner upper arm has to go to the back of the upper arm, outer upper arms have to roll from the outside to the inside, which means towards the front. So that circular action, has to be there in your upper arms. Now like you lengthen both the banks of the legs, can you lengthen both the banks of the arms? Not just the centre upper arm! The inner upper arm, the outer upper arm – lengthen them. Roll the front groins back – let the groins be in tadasana. Roll the outer elbows in and from the forearms to the feet, make the sides of the body longer. Once again spread the legs a little apart and RRROLL the back of the thighs – bring your AMS / uttanasana action and make the backs of the thighs wider. And then can you feel on the back of the thighs, the flesh is touching the skin – move it so much back. Keep the broadness and lengthen the legs so that you feel that lumbar extension and then bring the legs together. These subtler actions of the body must be learned – Guruji taught her that for students to be able to have the sensitivity to experience prana, they must learn to feel the subtle sensations in asana. He told her “teach the subtler actions in the body, then they will become sensitive towards the breath and prana”. Now in the process of coming down (2 legs if poss) the flesh has to touch the back of the skin – back of the thighs W I D E - B R O A D – until you reach the floor B R O A D and upper arms up. Straight into
AMS Like a river has to banks, back of the thigh has inner and outer. Arms also have banks. Inner arm faces the ear, outer arm facing outwards. Now in AMS we’ll compare the inner arm and the outer arm.
AMVrksasana 1st attempt (Can’t do AMVrk repeat AMS and also UMS and menstruation concave back and head down prasarita paddotonasana working on the back of the thighs). The body has 4 borders; left-side front and back and right-side front and back. Now come on! Lift all those 4 lines up! buttocks away from the wall! Maintain this upward lift and then adho mukha svanasana in the back of the thighs! Here she observed that one of the panelists was struggling to keep the buttock lift, so she had us all come down.
AMVrksasana 2nd attempt hands a little further away from the wall, so that you don’t have a choice but to take the buttocks into the body. So now with your hands away from the wall the buttocks remain definitely INTO the body, do you notice? Now the back of the thighs, inner bank and outer bank UP! right leg, left leg – so 4 lines you have to draw in your legs and lift them up. Back of the thighs W I D E, inner calf, outer calf UP, heels UP, feel what is the buttocks into the body and come down to repeat this feeling in the classical posture with hands closer to the wall.
AMVrksasana 3rd attempt (menstruation parsvottonasana back thigh work) Back border, front border ASCEND UP! Hips ASCEND UP! buttocks away from the wall, LIFT your back body higher and higher up. The your lungs can breathe better for pranayama. Inner upper arm, outer upper arm LIFT UP. Pressurise the thumbs and LIFT your side body higher up.
Viparita Dandasana on the chair Menstruating ladies can repeat this even if already done during sirsasana. Those who have back pain, keep the feet higher up – 2 chairs is ideal for both. If you have no chair use couch, bed, bridge – whatever is available. If you can’t do because of eyes issues / brain issues etc go for forward bends.
In AMS do you remember how I asked your back of thighs to be? I want you to bring that sensation, here in viparita dandasana. Your AMS thighs have to be implanted into your viparita dandasana. So first, inner thighs and outer thighs – lengthen towards the ankles. Only by lengthening the tail end, you don’t serve the purpose. You have to start from the SOURCE. From the source to the periphery. So from the groins to the inner knees, from the hips to the outer knee – from THERE learn to stretch your legs. Some of you are unable to access your thighs to do this – it seems like your thighs are out of network coverage, they cannot be reached by the brain. In that case, you have to put your feet slightly higher up. Walk up on the wall or put some other height under your heels, because the priority is to make your thighs longer, the priority is not to put your feet on the floor (that we will do some other time). But today I want you to keep your back thighs, inner back thigh, outer back thigh like AMSvanasana, that being the purpose, don’t hesitate to take your feet a little higher and now you will see that the extension is better. The back of the thighs, near the knees which is facing the floor, can you make it W I D E R. Give a skin expansion therapy there. The skin on the back of the thigh has to become TAUT. Do not allow wrinkles to come in the back of the thighs – spread them well, open them well. Now as you extend yourself from the hip to the outer ankle, groin to the inner ankle, come to the front of the thighs near the pelvis. That has to be PRESSED down towards the floor. In AMS you move the front thigh to the back thigh. Now in chair viparita dandasana, once again, mooove the front thigh to the back thigh, along with the side extension, otherwise you might get a back pain. This opens the lungs. See – if you drop the legs, to compare – forget the legs, neglect the legs – you will see that your chest expansion becomes lesser. Can you feel that? Go back to the correct version and see to it that your side body gets enriched. So working on your legs, makes your chest, makes your thoracic area feel enriched. So to know what is prana, to know what is breath touching your chest – you have to know this sensation that chair viparita dandasana is teaching you. The pelvic area, the pubic area, they have to become flat on the chair as you mobiilise your thighs. Notice how the chest improves. How the breathing improves.
Sarvangasana feet on the chair (or wall if no chair available) bolster under the shoulders (build up the height if one bolster not enough, neck issues etc). Bolster about 1 foot away from chair and feet pushing against the side bars of the chair close to the seat, toes up on the bar so that you can push against it to raise the buttocks up. Do not start from sitting on the chair. Start from the floor, shoulders on the bolster and then place your feet on the chair and lift up.
Menstruation – brick setu bandha if menstruation normal, if not choose your alternative, bolster setu bandha or janu sirsasana.
1st attempt. Mobilise your middle buttock area. Your middle buttock area is the heavy part, this has to be mobilised into the body. Raise your back body higher up. Have a few swing movements – UP and FORWARD (repeated x 3 with emphasis) Come down and take a break.
2nd attempt – if it’s not working go to the wall as you can adjust the height.
DEMO – identifying back border of the side body and front border of the side body. There is a certain girth to the side body. Now in this chair position, I want you to move this back border higher up. The back border of your side body has to go HIGH UP in your sarvangasana. That directly touches your respiratory system.
3rd attempt – Upper arms down and the back bank of your side body ASCEND UP! It is one border! It belongs to the side body also, it belongs to the back body also! That border ASCEND higher up. SHARP border there! Right side! Left side! And see how your side chest, armpits get opened. You get a certain fullness to your chest. If the buttocks drop – you won’t feel it. Buttocks INTO the body! One more time LIIFFT that up and go down. Why in Iyengar yoga we are so adamant that armpits have to open, chest has to open? As a beginner, there is no other alternative. The armpits are the storehouses of energy. If this area remains closed it is stagnant. It has to open for pranayama, it has to open for good posture and number 3 it has to open for your emotional health. For the recovery, the healing, this armpit area has to open up.
4th attempt – Outer thighs, outer hips higher up. Shoulder blades higher up. Now, the back border of your side body LIFT up. Back border of your side body LIFT UP, shoulder blades LIFT UP, outer thighs, like yesterday’s urdhva dhanurasana PUSH IT! Outer thighs, back border to the front border. Outer hips, back border to the front border. And feel that fullness in your sides of the chest. Take a selfie of the position of your side chest, because this has to be recreated in your independent sarvangasana.
Sarvangasana Menstruation t shape supta baddha konasana with 2 bolsters, if the buttocks sink into the bolster, take an extra foam block or folded blanket under the seat. If the groins are hard and it’s uncomfortable, the feet have to be raised higher up.
DEMO Just be seated in swastikasana and feel what is the length of your upper arm? Just get a mental imprint.
1st attempt – Just briefly to observe the length of the upper arm. Do you realise in sarvangasana the upper arms have shrunk? It appears shorter, you lose that length. Come down
Swastikasana- now here in swastikasana I want you to coil the armpits. Join your palms in namaskar as for the invocation. Now this is the back armpit and it has to be coiled in this direction (mimes a shallow u shape with her fingers, coming from the back armpit down and up into the front upper armpit). Now in your atman anajali mudra, keep your palms a little apart, lengthen the back of the upper arms, coil the armpit back to front and slowly bring the palms together, keeping the upper arms lengthening towards the elbow. Neck soft. Coil the armpits once again and see how the upper arms lengthen – this action has to come in your sarvangasana. Repeat - release the arms, once again bring your palms to namaskar mudra, coiling the armpits. Measure the length of the upper arm. Release the palms and this time don’t coil the armpit, casually join the palms and notice how the upper arms feel shorter. Compare.
Halasana with belt Straighten the arms behind, stretch the arms back, observe your arm length – lengthen it further. Now bend your arms but don’t put your palms on the back. Observe your armpit corners near the back chest – it is collapsing down. So that armpit corner – sharpen it! Lift the chest up! Lift the shoulder blades up! Now the palms almost ready to touch the back – not the entire palm, but only your thumbs and index fingers ready to touch the back for now – (thumbs on the side ribs, fingers together pointing towards the spine, see pic). Not always this position, but today when I am teaching you about upper arm length. Once again palms away from the back, now CHARGE that armpit corner, LIFT the chest up, LIFT the shoulder blades up, now the back-armpit corner, you have to separate – the chest corner has to go UP and that arm corner has to go DOWN. So the armpit, there is one part which belongs to the trunk – that has to go UP – there is one part which belongs to the floor that has to go DOWN because it belongs to the upper arm. Maintaining this action, take the palms one-by-one on your back, maintaining this clarity and sharpness, one-by-one palms on your back and go up to
Sarvangasana Legs also one-by-one up to sarvangasana. Ladies in menstruation, go for that armpit coiling action in supported setubandha also. Now observe the leg action – recollect your AMS your uttanasana, sirsasana etc. Now bring the same leg action from AMS here in sarvangasana. Back of the thighs, near the knees! The fingers have to be active on the back and LIFT the hip up. Elbows down and LIFT the lumbar up (repeated). Now cone to the side body – remember I told you it has a front bank and a back bank – now those side banks of your body LIFT up. Roll the groins in. Front groins roll back and lift up. The groins should make your legs straight – rolling back and back of the thigh in AMS action. Once again go to
Halasana Keep the arms bent, but don’t touch the back with your palms. Now DIP the inner, upper arms down and elongate the back of the upper arm. Lengthen the back of the upper arm towards the elbow and let the entire upper arm skin touch the base, touch your blanket, touch your sticky mat. Maintaining this length of the upper arms, straighten your arms on the ground – without shrinking the upper arms. The inner thigh and outer thigh, lift up away from your face. Come to the banks of your trunk – front bank and the back bank – lift them up. Hips also, front and back, lift them up. The arms should become longer, the trunk should become longer. Bend the arms once again – recreate that sharpness in your armpit area – the arms should become longer towards the elbow, trunk should become longer up towards the ceiling. Take your palms on your back one-by-one, ascending the chest corner up – you are going to go to sarvangasana how? The corner of the arm has to descend down, the corner of the chest has to ascend up, with this separation slowly go up to sarvangasana, one leg at a time. Feel how in sarvangasana you get that space, what opening you get in your armpit area, side chest feels larger, feels fuller. Eyes looking towards the chest, back of the thighs, remember what you did in sirsasana? Inner back thigh, outer back thigh ascend up.
Back of the thigh which is near the knee – in the new syllabus it is mentioned inter-connection between closed parts of the body, inter-connection between distinct parts of the body – they are in different levels. Find out, how by opening the back of the thighs near the knees, your chest, your spine responds. So it is not the beauty of the syllabus at all, it is the beauty of this God given body that such connections are available for tapping purposes. You can tap the energy of water, you can tap the energy of the wind, you can tap the solar energy and convert it into what you want. In that manner, these interconnections between parts of the body, you can tap and use it for your upliftment.
Savasana pranayama pillow or two 3-folded blankets spine wise. Folded blanket for your head. Sit in front of the support in bent legs, lie down, adjust buttocks away from waist and extend legs. Bend your arms with the palms facing your face, forearms perpendicular to the floor. One-by-one lift each arm, roll the outer elbow to the inner elbow and extend the inner upper arm towards the elbows and observe that your elbows are firm on the mat at that contact point, you have to seal that contact point. Now keeping that seal, you can unfold the forearms, but the elbows should not retard. Otherwise the tendency is the elbows will climb up towards the shoulders, that should not happen. Back of the armpits and the chest side corner, make that sharp, like you did in sarvangasana. Shoulders away from the neck, back of the armpit and the chest side corner, make it sharp. Chest corner up towards the ceiling, back of the upper arm towards the floor and towards the buttocks. If you maintain this position, you will be alert. Bend your legs one-by-one, readjust your buttocks. When you extend your legs, the buttock should not oscillate. The buttocks have to be sealed on the floor, like you sealed your elbows and one-by-one the legs have to be extended. That gives a different stability to the body. Since we adjusted the legs, now readjust the arms. If you maintain this position, that is straightening the legs without moving the buttock bones, without losing the contact, straightening the arms without losing the elbow contact, you will be alert. The brain, the back of the palms and the back of the heels completely passive, the back-armpit chest completely alert. Close your eyes. Observe your breathing – it now touches new parts inside your chest. New pathways, new avenues, the breath will touch. What a wonder, that with these adjustments, the breath which is not considered to be physical, is finding new pathways, is moving easily and it touches you inside. Relish this touch of the breath from within. Do not allow the back upper arms to move t