Practice Notes (6/28/10):
Recently, a friend named Susannah said she would like to read about what I practice each day… Each day I sit for at least 20 minutes with a candle lit and a book of teachings in front of me. This is a way of creating space for practice. My practice is shamatha; essentially maintaining your seated posture with mindfulness and placing your mind on your breath. I typically sit early in the morning between 5:30 and 6:00, while my husband is still sleeping.
My asana (yoga postures) practice is always at least one hour, often more. There are times when I don’t feel up for a practice or I’m distracted in some way. The key is getting the mat on the floor and standing on it. From there I can always begin sun salutations and as I feel the movement of my breath and come into that first downdog, I know that no matter what I will feel better if I practice.
In order to create the space in your life for practice, you need to grasp it’s importance, to regard practice as something as essential as sleep, and much more essential than checking email, or other tasks we do somehow always have time for. I believe this applies to all practices- take time to be present, to really watch what you are doing, feel your body with respect, notice your thoughts and attitudes. When you are finished, compare your overall state of being to what it was when you began. Notice the small changes over time as you continue to practice. This way the practice becomes the motivation for future practice.
Recently I have been working with the inverted asanas: headstand, forearm balance, handstand, and shoulder stand. I typically hold my headstand for 5 minutes and headstand is the mainstay of my inversion practice. I always practice standing poses, often trikonasana (triangle), parsvokonasana (side angle stretch) standing front bends, warriors, and standing balances.
In my asana practice today my focus was on Virabhadrasana I, warrior I. This pose is intense and powerful as the name suggests and does give me a sense of strength and trust in my body because of it’s stability. There are many ways to practice, but recently I have been working it with a strap looped over the head of my thigh on my front leg and then looped over my back heel. This way the action of grounding the back heel is emphasized (as you push your heel into the strap), and my legs are stabilized allowing for a strong lifting action of my spine away from my pelvis. Through the downward rooting of the pose, the upward rising movement is available. I practiced several Sun Salutations, the B series from Ashtanga Yoga, which includes chair pose (Utkatasana) and Virabhadrasana I. Then I practiced Vira I with the strap, as well as coming into the pose from a wide legged standing pose with my arms lifted to emphasize the lift of the my torso away from my pelvis and the length in my side body, both of which allow for greater freedom in the lumbar in the pose.
Practice Notes 6/29/10:
Today I prepared for my evening class in my asana practice. My focus was on asymmetry- working each side of the body independently and integrating oppositional movements, for example extending left arm and right leg. Working in this way can give a sense of overall balance, cultivating congruency. For example if we are tight on one side of our lumbar it creates a strain pattern that can radiate to the hips, upper back and neck. In the asana process realizing physical union or non-duality can be viewed as the practical goal. This way we experience less pain or dukha, working toward ease- sukha.
The apex poses of my sequence were Virabhadrasana III with support under one hand and Salabhasana with one arm extended forward and the other back. I started with Adho Mukha Virasana with my wrists on blocks to lengthen the side body and both sides of the spine evenly. I added Marichyasana III- twisting poses are essential for balancing and mobilizing the spine. Then on all 4′s extending right leg, left arm and vice versa, maintaining the stability of my pelvic and shoulder girdles. In Adho Mukha Savanasana (AMS or dog pose) I lifted my back leg and felt my hamstring shorten and engage. I also felt the action of my femur bones moving to my hamstrings in AMS, which helps to bring the pelvis back and bring weight to the legs and feet. I practiced lunges and Vira I several times, with the same movement of femur to hamstring in the back leg. Also in AMS the movement of the ASIS’s (hip crests at the front, anterior superior iliac spine) can be felt, which opens the sacrum and engages the core in prep for Vira III. I practiced Vira III with one arm extended (opposite arm as leg) and the other hand on a block under my shoulder. I pressed my femur to hamstring on my standing leg, rotated my outer hip away from my waist(standing leg), felt the movement of ASIS’s squeezing towards each other, my hamstring shorten on my back leg. Vira III is a deep expression of dynamic strength, named for a mythological warrior created from the hair of Siva.
After Ardha Matsyendrasana (seated twist) and handstand/ forearm balance practice, I finished with back arches- Salabhasana, bhujangasana with my mid-thighs bound with a strap for congruency, Urdhva Dhanurasana and Viparita Dandasana, feeling my ASIS lift and move towards each other, creating space in my sacrum. To unwind: supta sukhasana, supta eka pada padmasana, padmasana twisting, and savasana with knees supported.