Alignment in the koshas – with Eyal Shifroni

This workshop is a hard one to write about. I wonder if others attending had the same feeling as I did; that it was quite special.

I remember going to my first yoga workshop, and being impressed, and learning so much. I also remember being a bit anxious going to my first “out-of-studio” workshop. Now, as you’ve probably noticed, I regularly go to workshops and study all over the place, so this feeling has evaporated a bit. While I always learn some new things during workshops, I also have learned a lot in the past years, and I often have already used props or touched upon concepts the workshop is about, so I am already familiar with the practice. And while I did feel a bit of that this weekend, I also felt that I could go one layer further with Eyal’s teaching. The depth of his teaching made me think whether I would have gotten as much if I had attended a couple of years ago. I also realize that other senior teachers might have spoken about things that flew way over my head at the time, and so I only remember my own “haha” moments, and others might have gotten something very different from the practice than I did at the time.

The theme of the weekend was alignment and the five koshas. If anything, the workshop really made me want to study philosophy more and reread the yoga sutras, though my copy with Guruji’s commentary is back home and I’ll have to wait until the Christmas break to get it back.

1221207_orig

Anyways. Where to start?

How about with the fact that after eluding me for the whole time of teacher training, the only thing I can feel in any pose now seems to be my hips. I can’t believe I’m only now getting all of these feelings and brush upon some kind of understanding. Maybe I needed my hamstring injury to start feeling the hips? Guess I’ll never know. I could go through all the poses and the props we used, but I would rather focus on the philosophical aspect in this article, so I’ll just mention that Eyal is amazingly ingenious with prop use. If you haven’t already, you can check out his books for more information.

But more broadly, the weekend’s practice was based on a lot of this article (You might want to read it first before going on with this article). On Friday, we worked on concentration (focusing on one point), taking the foot as the base and object of our concentration. The idea was that our foot should stay as if in Tadasana no matter what pose we would be practicing, so that there would be an even weight on each eight of feet (quarter of each of the two feet) at all time. This focus in observation led to everyone being quite slow while getting into the pose, paying attention to any subtle change in weight distribution and immediate correction if possible.

On Saturday, we moved onto the diffusion of the manas (mind) to the whole body, starting from the chest.  Think of  a cork block (the ones we use in yoga class). We were instructed to move into different asanas as if the cork clock was our chest and we were trying to keep this block as even as possible. So in Trikonasana for exemple, the block would simply be titled to the side, but both sides of the block (aka chest) would be evenly elongated. Thinking about creating an even length in the torso was very helpful for me, especially in Eka Padanghustasana, as it prevented hanging in the hip of the standing leg. We started talking about the heart being the center of a tranquil consciousness (citta), as buddhi (intelligence) origins from the heart. This was then explored by (trying) radiating our awareness from the heart to the rest of the chest (and eventually the rest of the body, we stayed mainly within the chest).

yoga-block-250x250

Our beloved cork blocks. So even!

Sunday was all about backbends, and a natural continuation of Saturday’s theme from diffusion of the manas to the radiation of buddhi (intelligence) from the heart to the rest of the body. I was on my period the whole weekend, but it was mainly on Sunday that I felt like I was missing out, as there were intense backbends and a lot of inversions. Even in the not-so-intense backbends I could practice, I found it way harder to go through the concentration-diffusion-radiation (Dharana-Dyana-Samadhi) triad (or even touch upon the radiation to be honest). Even though I was trying to create space within my backbends, I still find it physically taxing and difficult to breathe (not that I get out of breath, I can stay in poses for a while, but it is simply harder to create sufficient breathing space).

I thoroughly enjoyed studying with Eyal, and I hope our paths cross again. I’m sorry this article is actually so short and I feel like I’m barely going over the surface of things, but these are difficult concepts I still need time ton digest and work on. I figured it is still better for me to write a little about it than nothing. I’ll leave you with our “homework” question. Eyal asked us on Friday, what does alignment in all of the koshas mean for you? He mentioned that alignment in the Annamaya (body) and Pranamaya (energy) koshas were easy to understand conceptually, but for the innermost koshas this is more difficult to grasp. We discussed it briefly on Sunday, and there are no bad answers, so I would be curious to hear your opinions.

 

Advertisements

Vegactivism

This weekend, I went to Veggieworld Utrecht. It was awesome to see so many people who are interested in a vegan lifestyle and so many sellers showcasing the future of vegan food (or fashion, or whatev.!).

Shoutout to Charly’s all is fair which has the best vegan cheese I had ever tried (and I’ve tried many, totally obsessed with vegan cheese). If there was a seller in Utrecht, oh my! I would spend all my money on their cheeze (or do we say Gary now?).

Image may contain: 1 person

My food haul, as you can see I’m slightly obsessed with vegan cheese!

I stopped at the Even Geen Vlees (loosely translatable by “simply no meat”) stand and talked for a short while with Armanda Govers (the lady pictured next to the bus stop ad). She’s lovely, and it was interesting to see the amount that the meat industry spends on advertising. I ended up signing up to support them through a small monthly donation, which would probably have been larger if I wasn’t starting to get worried about being unemployed from next month on :p

Their main goal is to promote veganism and/or a plant-based lifestyle by advertising vegan athletes (cf the poster of Sanne Visser, the Dutch powerlifting champion), thus showing that you can build muscle and perform well without meat! It resonated with me since one of the reasons I started caring a little more about how I look is because my way of promoting the vegan lifestyle is by being happy and looking hot, huh, I mean, healthy.

I’m an introvert. I hate heated discussions. I hate talking about veganism in a way, because a) it’s impopular b) people usually start thinking I judge them and c) if I actually speak my mind, people think I’m crazy because d) people don’t actually listen to scientifically sound arguments. And oh, e) sometimes I feel like a bad vegan (which apparently is a common thing).

I’ll quickly get back to points d) and e). There’s ample evidence that eating animal products is both unhealthy and terrible for the environment. Yet, veganism is seen as an extremism. So let’s agree here that the decision of eating or not eating animal products is not a logical one, but one governed by feelings. When did you decide to start eating animal products? If you’re like me, you didn’t. It was never a conscious decision from my part to eat animal products, but something linked to my cultural upbringing, and “justified” by culture, taste, and (wrongly informed) health claims.

So why do I feel like a bad vegan? Why do I even hesitate to use the word vegan at all when talking about myself? I became vegetarian when I realized that the only reason I wasn’t was because I was afraid of the reactions of my family. And I finally decided that if my family shunned me for wanting to be living a more ethical and compassionate lifestyle, then maybe there was something wrong with them, not with me. I became vegan soon after. I had already not been eating dairy for a while due to my casein allergy, and after watching a couple of videos on egg factories and male chicks being ground alive, I stopped buying eggs. BUT! I sometimes, very rarely and usually buy mistake, buy prepared goods which contains eggs. They’re sneaky and easily find their way in gluten-free products. Same with palm oil (though technically not an animal product, palm oil is often not considered vegan because of the problems linked to deforestation to plant palm trees). Sometimes I’m out eating with friends, and there are no options for me. Sometimes I won’t eat at all, but sometimes I’ll end up getting something that is gluten/dairy free and vegetarian, but does contain eggs.

BUT! I’ve decided that that’s it. I’m gonna stop caring about being the annoying gluten-free vegan at the restaurant and start voicing my questions. I’m not gonna transform into an extrovert, probably like, ever; so it’s unlikely I will ever become a vegan activist PETA-style. But that’s ok. I’ll convince people one at a time, which delicious heaty food, a fit healthy body, contagious happiness and respectful discussions. And maybe wearing a cool T-shirt promoting veganism or something 😉

To finish, I’d like to thank my boyfriend who unknowingly is the first person to have ever called me a vegan. Positive reinforcement: it works! Somehow knowing that he considers me a vegan also helped me calling myself so. I know for most of you it’s probably making a big parade out of nothing, but for me it was a big deal, because there is a lot of bagage which comes with the vegan label – and after 1.5+ years, I finally feel ready to wear it proudly.

 

Chaturanga dandasana, my nemesis

A slightly more technical article tonight, because as we like to say in French “C’est l’occasion qui fait le larron”; i.e. my friend took some pictures this morning and I thought it was the occasion to make a blog post.

Comparatively to the number of hours I spend doing yoga, there are very few pictures of me in asana. I’m not on Instagram, and I don’t do selfies, so my yoga pictures are either from people who think what I do is cool or to check my alignment. The winner in the first category is Sirsasana (headstand); somehow friends and family like taking pictures when I’m standing on my head. The winner of the second category, with a large advance, is Chaturanga Dandasana (a.k.a. the yoga pushup).

Out of the Introductory I&II syllabus, Chaturanga is the one pose I truly struggle with. We’re supposed to hold it for 30 seconds, which to me appear to be 30 years. There are other poses that I find hard, but at least I can get into the shape of the asana. With Chaturanga, I lack both the strength and the alignment that would enable me to work on either, so practicing it feels pretty helpless.

Still, it seems to be getting better since the beginning of the year (i.e. teacher training year so September) when I realized I truly my teacher gently scolded me and told me I really needed to be working on it specifically.

Let’s look at Guruji, B.K.S. Iyengar:

th

Ok, it’s impossible to find a good quality picture of Guruji in this pose, which is incredible. Gotta scan my Light on Yoga next time. 

The instructions given in the preliminary course are:

  • lie face down on the floor
  • bend the elbows and place the palms by your side in line with the floating ribs
  • have the feet one foot apart and anchor the toes so they point towards the head
  • exhale and raise the entire body a few inches above the floor
  • keep the chest hips, thighs and knees lifted so the whole body rests only on the hands and toes
  • keep the face and chest facing the floor
  • exhale, lower the trunk down to the floor

NB: this asana is classified with the backbends because it tones the spinal muscles (it is actually a backbend prep.).

The main learning point is to keep the knees and thighs firm above the floor without sticking the tailbone up to the ceiling, chest up so the whole body is parallel to the floor. 

I’ve been working on it with different variations, at the wall, using a block under the pelvis or under the chest (the latest variation I learned this morning!), using a bolster under the trunk (which I don’t like because it just feels like I’m not doing anything).

2645b51d3bb45b150fce2998e9435e21

Bolster variation, credits Ann West Yoga

Let’s look at some of my progress pics with variations (thanks Hiske and Tally for taking most pictures):

IMG-20150919-WA0000

My chaturanga in September during teacher training. I swear I’m really doing my best, but my form is very, very poor. Instead of a straight line going from my feet to my neck, I break in multiple points (hips, low and upper back, neck). 

So what’s happening here? Well many things, such as  I’m not using my glutes, which is a general issue with me since I am never using them. I’m not bending my elbows enough so I’m more in a bhujangasana form; truthfully this comes from the fact that I used to feel like my breasts had to leave the floor quite a bit when in reality, in the proper alignment they almost touch the floor. My neck is being heavy, shoulder blades not in my back, elbows going out, etc, etc. I could go on, but you got the message: this is really bad form.

chaturanga-dandasana

Muscles that should be working during Chaturanga, credits prana prana yoga. Basically all my weak points: triceps, abs, glutes. 

A month of daily practice later, this was the result end of October (block under pelvis variation):

20151020_080010

Home practice end of October, using a block under the pelvis which you cannot see on the picture. The alignment is better, but my shoulders are dropping and this time, I’m not lifting the chest enough. 

20151020_075530

Same practice, different view. You can see that my chest alignment is better but I’m not using my legs properly. I still need to bring my tailbone down and my shoulders up. Sorry for the poor picture quality…

tumblr_nc5iledy9u1tem5nto1_1280

Sketch from fnyogi showing the block position in the block under pelvis variation. 

 

Alright, now this morning, so approximately 7 months after the first picture (and admittedly a daily practice which recently did not include many chaturangas…).

 

IMG-20160407-WA0000

Wall variation after my first attempt at the full pose was terribly out of alignment. I’ve hurt my right wrist a while ago by transitioning from halasana to setu bandha so this was also easier to hold for a while. 

 

The main thing is still to bring my tailbone down… and a bit more abs would help. As usual, my flexibility is an issue and I spend a lot of time finding “the middle”. Maybe it’s part of a bigger, metaphorical lesson (but seriously, I often have no idea where the middle is so that my hips are in line with the rest of my body, even in Tadasana).

 

IMG-20160407-WA0003

Using a block under the chest (and a wooden plank for my wrist).

IMG-20160407-WA0002

End pose, no props except for the plank for my wrist. The alignment is much, much better! I’m still dropping my shoulders lower than my elbows, but otherwise it looks much more like a straight line. Next step: bringing the chest forward so that my hands are under my elbows, but that may have to wait until my wrist is better. 

 

I’m gonna try and keep the body imprint… And work on holding the shape longer than 5 seconds! Practice and all is coming as Sri Pattabhi Jois said 😉

Yoga inspired art

Even with the enormous popularity yoga has gained in the recent years, I am surprised that yoga related art is not more present. Of course, photography and videos of beautiful people doing advanced poses in beautiful locations are numerous, and as body expression they are often worthy of the “art” title, even though the “yogic” quality of it is sometimes lost along the way.

Some of my favorite artistic videos I watch for inspiration:

blank 

I won’t get into asana photographs as anyone slightly interested in yoga and who knows what instagram is won’t have any issues finding #yogaspiration. Whether said pictures are art, yoga, or both, I will let for the reader to decide, as it is likely a case by case scenario.

But let’s talk about music. I’m surprised there are not more musicians inspired by their practice. And I’m pretty sure this is neither art nor yoga:

I don’t mean to imply that pop music cannot be yogic, as I sometimes like to practice to the sound of song which, while not originally dedicated to yoga, I feel are a reflection of my practice at the time. And I don’t especially like “traditional” yogic music which I feel is simply Indian music, and cultural misappropriation since yoga is traditionally not practiced to any music, which is deemed as distracting from what is happening inside your body and your brain. And indeed when I am not doing a “feel good” practice but seriously practicing then there is no way I would practice with music. Anyhow, one “pop artist” who is taking inspiration from yoga to create music is Mc Yogi, which I enjoy:

Anyhow, off to more “fine” arts, which was actually what drawn (!) me to write this article. I would have thought that many drawers and painters would be inspired by their practice and express themselves through their pencils and brushes. I know that if I were any more gifted in the drawing department it would help me immensely as I would transform emotions and understanding of concepts into drawings whereas now I have to put words on them, and sometimes words simply don’t cut it. I tend to add up arrows and notes to asana schemes in my training book, but it’s quite unhandy. Were I able to draw bodies, I would put actions and energy directions into drawing which would give a more accurate description of the glimpse of knowledge I acquired for a moment.

I have been researching artists who would help me patch up my lack of skill and my desire of understanding, and what came out was only two artists are present on the internet from whom I can relate: on the more “pop” and psychedelic side, there is Karmym:

Adho Muhka Svanasana / Downward Facing Dog

                                                       Adho Muhka Svanasana / Downward Facing Dog 

Kapotasana - King pigeon pose

                                                                                   Kapotasana – King pigeon pose

And in a different, “bare” style, Lindsay Satchell:

Urdhva Mukha Svanasana - Upward Dog

                                    Urdhva Mukha Svanasana – Upward Dog

                                                                                Adho Mukha Virasana / Child’s pose

I hope you can relate to some of the art I showcased today, and if you have any suggestions to add to the list please leave a comment!

                                                                                               Tomboy Art