Light on life, chapter 2: stability – by Rebecca Lerner (Day 1)

This weekend I went to a workshop at the New York Institute with Rebecca Lerner. The theme of the workshop was the chapter 2 of Light on life, which was great for me, as I often lack in stability compared with flexibility. Also, light on life is my favorite yoga book and very high on my list of favorite books, and it was the first time I heard of someone having a workshop centered around a chapter of that book, so I was pretty excited.

There were three sessions: standing poses with a special attention to twists (Day 1), restorative & pranayama (Day 1), and finally arm balances and backbends (Day 2).

We started the standing poses session by working on parsva adho mukha virasana. Keeping the stabilizing arm (right arm while turning to the right) bent, extend the other arm as far forward as possible. Use your hand to help the belly to turn further, then extend again, and finally extend both arms. This created a very intense twist that one might not think possible in parsva adho mukha virasana.

Parsva adho mukha virasana with the stabilising arm bent by szkolajogi

After doing both sides two or three times, we went back to the center and up into Downward Dog. All following poses were stepped into from downdog and we changed sides sliding through prasarita padottonasana with a short rest with the head down. Rebecca mentioned that staying low would help both maintain the energy levels and help with the grounding and stability of the asanas.

The sequence itself was quite classic: parsvottanasana, parvritta trikonasana, parvritta parsvakonasana, parvritta ardha chandrasana. But the focus was on the revolving action, especially the turning from stability in the legs and the hips. She had us touch our hip bones and use our hands to give the right directions to the legs and the trunk. For exemple in parvritta trikonasana, she made us give the direction of inward rotation at the front hip bone to soften the abdomen and allow turning the chest from the stability in the hips. She mentioned that if this slight inward rotation was there, there would be no swaying of the hips on either side while we tried to turn. Furthermore, in all these poses she had us use our hand flat on the floor (as much as possible obviously, if you needed a brick you could use one) and stamp the heel of the hand down. I found it particularly helpful to work that way in terms of stability and connectivity for the shoulder.

Parvritta Parsvakonasana by BKS Iyengar

We then proceeded to sirsasana. There was much attention brought to the positioning of the hands; it seems we are often overcompensating the clasping of the hands and inward rotation of the wrist / lower arms. She had us clasp the hands but not so much that the thumbs would be crossing, simply resting on top of the index fingers. I had my small “yes!!!” moment when she mentioned bidirectionality in the arms, that we are used to going from the elbow to the wrist, but that we also need to learn going from the wrist to the elbow. This change in the hand position seemed to be very strange for most people and quite impactful, but I had been practicing that way for a while now, so it wasn’t a big shock to me. It was more of a shock that the way I was practicing headstand was seemingly not the “taught” way anymore; apparently along the way of home practice I improved (?) or at least let go of thing not serving me. I think at some point I was bringing in my elbows to close by in headstand which was creating issues with my neck, and when I went away from that my grip on the hands changed. I have also been practicing changing hand positions while in headstand quite a bit (I started doing that when I realized most of the weight was on my head anyhow, I could keep my shoulders lifted, and balance quite easily) and I believe that has improved my alignment, or vice-versa. Sometimes you’re really not sure of which came first…

We also practiced a few poses which are not in Light on Yoga, which was quite interesting. Rebecca mentioned that many poses didn’t make it into the final cut of LOY, as otherwise the book would have been too big and too expensive. We practiced two of those poses in headstand: parsva parvritta eka pada sirsasana (like parsva eka pada sirsasana but with the foot on the floor going to the direction of the foot still up, so if your right foot is touching down it would cross the midline towards your left) and akunchasana / parsva akunchasana: knees bent and thighs touching the chest, then swinging the knees to the right, staying and to the left, staying. My abs still remember this pose… But it was very interesting and I’m definitely gonna work on this pose more at home.

akunchasana

The only picture I could find of akunchasana, not sure where the credit is due, please let me know if you know…

Finally (I think, I’m not so sure anymore about the timeline) we finished the morning with mulabandhasana sitting on a bolster, then going into vamadevasana I from a kind of wide knee vajrasana. I was actually very surprised to see I could do this, as I had never even attempted that pose before! I had no idea where we were going and just found myself in the pose, which was a great beginner’s feeling I hadn’t had in a while.

Vamedasana I by Jack Cuneo

Speaking of which, there were lots of talk about aparigraha and not coveting the neighbor’s pose and staying safe, in particular with all of these knee-heavy poses, which I thought Rebecca was very elegantly bringing into her teaching.

After a short viparita karani, we went for lunch, and reconvened two hours later for some digestive poses (supta virasana and supta badakonasana), shoulderstand and variations (we also practiced akunchasana / parsva akunchasana among other variations here, and Rebecca showed us how all the turning in parsva akunchasana was a great preparation for parsva sarvangasana as it enables us to bring the supporting hand really nicely under the tailbone. She also mentioned we could work on extending the legs in this pose using a chair to support the feet, which I’m really looking forward to work on at home). After this, we started pranayama, first lying down in supported savasana, then sitting, and we finished in prone savasana.

I always feel very inadequate writing about pranayama, as I feel very “meek” (Rebecca’s / Mr Iyengar’s words) in that practice. I do not practice pranayama very regularly. I feel guilty about not doing it more often, and I have started working on it a bit more (I even opened Light on Pranayama and read through some passages in the past few weeks) but I still feel very uncomfortable about giving pranayama instructions. However, I was surprised as I could easily sit through the whole session without fidgeting, which is definitely an improvement since teacher training. I guess all this sitting I’ve been doing is starting to bear its fruits. As for the pranayama itself, the only thing I will say is that we focused on keeping the chest bone / sternum lifted, and in particular lifted not only up (towards the head) but slightly forward (towards the front of the body) on the inhale.

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Workshop with Manouso Manos – Day 1

My last weekend in August was spent at a workshop with Manouso Manos, where I also got to receive my Iyengar teacher certificate.

On the first day, he went back to basics: the feet, especially the heels, and how a different weight division influences the rest of the body. While I had often heard about the four corners of the heel, he told us to visualize a circle around the heel and try to get the whole outer circle down to the floor in Tadasana. We did quite a few repetitions of this Tadasana throughout the class, without mats – feet on hard wood. I realized that it is very hard for me to feel the front of the right heel and the back of the left heel.

Then we worked on standing poses (Trikonasana, Parsvakonasana) with a focus (Aparigraha) on getting the back outer heel down, and keeping it down as we move the chest or the arms. It was difficult for me to keep my attention there, as I was trying not to overextend in my front leg – I’ve just discovered during self practice that I need to press the front of the front foot more in order to do that. Manousos brushed upon this as well, as he said in parallel to “the weight of the back foot tends to go to the front of the foot as we move the chest down” (since the focus point was the back outer heel), that the weight of the front foot tends to go to the heel.

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The outer heel

We did Parivrtta Trikonasana as per Light on Yoga, so with a very short distance between the feet. Here, the focus was on the lower back – overall the whole class was designed to help with lower back issues. Manouso said that in Parivrtta Trikonasana, the lower back should be rounding like in a forward bend, and this opened a new window of understanding for me. He said that we often go down from stiffness or compactness and grinding of the hip joint, while the lower back should not be so rigid.

He also taught Downward Dog with a shorter distance, trying to get the inner heel to go to the outer heel (without moving the feet) so that the point under the ankle bone would go in, creating wrinkles there. Jury’s still out on that, I felt like it was a “touch and go” experience for me. However one thing I clearly did not understand was to bring the groins down towards the knees. Gotta revisit that instruction in a couple of years, probably.

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Between the finger and the ankle bone the skin should wrinkle 

We then moved on headstand and backbends, but I can’t remember anything really sticking out there. In headstand we were still working on the heel / ankle thing. For backbends we worked on getting the little toe and ball of the little toe down (Ustrasana and Urdhva Mukha Svanasana).

More noticably, we did a version of Setu bandha I had never done before, with the block not under the tailbone but rather in the lower back – so that the buttocks are not on the brick but falling over, and the other end of the brick touches the lower ribs. Very intense pose, especially since he made it very clear that we should feel either one edge of the block or two but not the middle, for if our lower back was heavy on the middle of the block we would be assured of getting lower back pain. NOT an easy variation, which I felt was even harder for me because we were also doing this pose without mats in order to be able to slide the feet, but I then had no resistance from my feet to be able to curve over the block. #sweatyyogi

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Classical Setu Bandha position where the block is under the tailbone. Credit

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More like the position of the block we used, with the buttocks falling over the block. But we had legs straights – Manouso instructed us to keep the legs hip width though.  Credit.

From Setu Bandha we moved to Shoulderstand, and finished the class with a Supta Padangusthasana II variation, first with the belt, then holding the bone just above the heel on the outside of the foot.

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Part of the foot we had to hold for Supta Padangusthasana II