Postural Practice Pointers 16 – A little movement in a lot of places
One principle taught to me by Desikachar,
related to our relationship with our spine from a Yoga perspective,
whether on a physical, energetic or psychic level.
It is the notion that we are looking for a little movement in a lot of places,
rather than a lot of movement in a few places.
“Dynamic postures bring out inherent weaknesses and trends in the breath.
They can also tell you what ratios should be avoided.”
– From personal lessons with TKV Desikachar
When less Āsana time than you would like,
better to reduce the number of Āsana,
or the number of repetitions,
or the length of the stays,
rather than, reducing the length of the breath.
Or….. even considering lengthening the breath,
thus even fewer Āsana, all with a longer breath than usual.
Here the Bhāvana could be to observe the effect
of a more spacious than usual Āsana breathing
on a more cramped than usual daily mindset.
Postural Practice Pointer 15 – Forward bending and Prāṇa to Apāna Breathing
When moving away from the lower limbs during forward bend Āsana,
move firstly by as if arching from the arms and upper back,
before ultimately arching from the lower back.
In terms of a Bhāvana during the movement,
the focus is on inhaling from Prāṇa Sthāna towards Apāna Sthāna.
Thus breathing as if from the upper chest towards the lower abdomen.
Postural Practice Pointer 14 – Forward bending and Apāna to Prāṇa Breathing
When bending towards the lower limbs during forward bend Āsana,
move firstly by as if rounding from the lower back,
before ultimately rounding from the upper back.
In terms of a Bhāvana during the movement,
the focus is on exhaling from Apāna Sthāna towards Prāṇa Sthāna.
Thus breathing as if from the lower abdomen towards the upper chest.
“Another important aspect is that the masters
taught us to move from a deeper source,
not just from muscles and joints.”
– TKV Desikachar France 1984
Postural Practice Pointer 11 – Vinyāsa for Jaṭhara Parivṛtti
This is a suggestion for a Vinyāsa for approaching and leaving Jaṭhara Parivṛtti.
When lowering from the upward raised legs position use one long exhale,
but through two distinct stages of movement.
The first part of the exhale is to lower the knees over the chest.
The second part of the exhale is used to rotate the trunk into the twist.
The exit is the exact counterpart with one inhale and two stages of movement.
The first part of the inhale brings the knees over the chest.
The second part of the inhale extends the legs upwards.
A suggestion for Bhāvana is to gradually increase the stay.
For example stay one breath each side the first time
and then increase the stay next time to two breaths each side
and finally stay three breaths each side.
As to breathing a suggested ratio of 188.8.131.52. during both movement and stay.
Postural Practice Pointer 10 – Forward bends are Paścimatāna Āsana or Back Stretches
Forward Bends are back stretching Āsana in terms of Bhāvana.
Thus in Paścimatāna Āsana one of the foci is on avoiding pushing
from the lower back as you bend forward.
Thus move forward from the abdominal area by drawing it back,
to encourage the lower back to respond by lengthening.
If we push from the lower back in forward bends,
such as Paścimatānāsana, it can tighten this area,
thus inhibiting the focus on the quality of the Apāna Lakṣaṇa,
as well as transferring stress to the sacrum, hips and hamstrings.
“Always raise and lower the arms in the plane of the movement.
This helps the forward movement by causing you
to arch the back slightly before you bend forward.
Traditionally arms are straight and placed behind the ears.”
– TKV Desikachar 1980
Postural Pointer 6 – Staying in Stillness
Making the Breath longer than the Stillness.
Making the Breath longer than the Stillness
means the body needs to be completely still before
the Recaka or Exhale is started and especially before it is stopped.
Equally the the body needs to be completely still before
the Pūraka or inhale is started and especially before it is stopped.
This is harder than it sounds given the propensity to want to tweak or adjust the body
at the beginning and especially when at the end of a movement.
Thus making the breath longer than the Movement
also means making the breath longer than the Stillness.
My understanding from my discussions over the years with TKV Desikachar regarding the context and content of Yoga Makaranda, is that when teaching youngsters the length of the breath was minimised to a relatively short fixed length and use of Kumbhaka was limited to a few seconds Antar Kumbhaka and Bahya Kumbhaka.
“The Āsana are presented in Vinyāsa Krama, the way it was taught to children in the Yogasāla.
This should not create the impression that T Krishnamacharya taught in this manner to everyone.”
– TKV Desikachar Introduction to Yoga Makaranda
In the adult there were no such limitations for the breath and the work with variations of the Āsana was re-prioritised to working with a fewer Āsana and fewer variations within each Āsana, but with the challenge of a greater range of breathing patterns both in length and combinations.
Certainly Antar Kumbhaka or Bahya Kumbhaka of 10″ was commonplace in the adult practice and here the ‘perfection’ of the Āsana was measured by mastery of all aspects of the breath rather than for the youngster, where ‘perfection’ of the Āsana was measured by mastery of all aspects of the form. This was consistent with Krishnamacharya’s teaching in his Yoga Rahasya on Yoga Sādhana and Stages of Life.
Furthermore my understanding is that if we use a particular Āsana with all its permutations of form and thus less focus on the variations of the breath it operates more as an Āsana. If we use a specific primary Āsana with the focus on all its permutations of breath and thus less priority around the variations of the form it operates more as a Mudrā.
Sarvaṅgāsana is such an example with its 32 variations devised by Krishnamacharya emphasising its role as an Āsana and its static solo form with its focus on extensive breath ratios involving all four aspects of the breath, perhaps augmented by the Tri Bandha, emphasising its role as a Mudrā.
For more on introduction to Yoga Makaranda read……
Introduction to the Yoga Makaranda by TKV Desikachar
Postural Pointer 5 – Utkaṭāsana and sequence of movement respecting Prāṇa and Apāna
All these stages of descent are on one long exhalation.
– Lower the backside to the heels whilst keeping the back upright and the arms raised.
– Then stretch the back rounding it towards thighs whilst keeping the arms raised.
– Finally lower the arms to the ground.
All these stages of ascent are on one long inhalation.
– Raise the arms as far as we can keeping hips on the heels.
– Then straighten the back into an upright position.
– Finally lifting the backside off the heels and coming up.
Postural Pointer 4 – Dynamic Movement and the Refinement of the Breath
A longer term refinement of working with the breath in Āsana such as Paścimatānāsana,
is to begin the breath before leaving your departure point,
and finish the breath after reaching your arrival point.
In other words keeping the breath longer than the movement at all times.
The Aṣṭāṅgāsana or the eight limbs of Āsana Planning and Practice are the formula for constructing a skilful and place, time and lifestyle appropriate Āsana practice. These eight limbs fall into eight categories, that of:
- The definition, meaning and context of Āsana
– Core concept – Nāma Rūpa Lakṣana – name, form and characteristics
- How Āsana are arranged into groups and categories
– Core concept – Vinyāsa Krama – collecting postures together
- How counterpostures or Pratikriyāsana are integrated
– Core concept – Pratikriyāsana– maintaining the balance
- The value and purpose of the breath in Āsana
– Core concept – Prāṇāpāna Dhāraṇā – where the focus is
- How movement or stay are used in Āsana
Core concept – Circulation and Purification – dynamic and static
- The adaptation of Āsana practice
– Core concept – Variation and Modification – change and necessity
- Intelligently planning and Āsana practice
– Core concept – Bṛṃhaṇa and Laṅghana Kriyā – connecting postures together
- Observation within Āsana practice
– Core concept – Spine, Breath and Attention – learning to look
In my last post on Aṣṭāṅgāsana I talked about introducing each of these eight topics to help the reader to appreciate more about what is inherent in the depth and breadth of this approach in terms of Āsana planning having a precise and comprehensive formula.
Āsana practice starts with a need to know something about the Āsana we are going to work with as we introduce, persevere and develop and especially personalise our practice. Hence we have to both practice but also have some theoretical background in order to context an Āsana in itself and in relationship to other Āsana.
With nearly 2000 Posts and Resources on the site I have been reflecting on how to expand the access points and yet simplify the reader experience for visitors. So I started by looking at the Blog Page by reviewing the broad topic categories and considering the need to re-organise the groupings as well as increasing the range of related topics within the sub-groupings.
The first general topic in the Journal is that of Posts on Yoga Practice and its five main areas for study are:
Going deeper into these five aspects of practice I see that the first topic, that of Āsana & Kriyā Practice, now has some 500 posts in the one thread. Obviously a need for review here! So turning my attention to this I started to consider what would be a useful, yet appropriate way to sub-categorise the topics in this particular section.
“Any movement can be done on the exhale or stop.
Not every movement can be done on inhale or hold.
Therefore the gradual movement of the breath
or introduction of the breath
should be directed into the exhale.
The exhale must be respected.
When the exhale is secure or firm,
then the attention can be shifted to the inhale or to work on the holds.”
– From personal lessons with TKV Desikachar
Postural Practice Pointer 1 – Jaṭhara Parivṛtti and Movement
When coming up focus on on the lower leg lifting up the upper leg,
rather than the upper leg hauling up the lower leg.
I recently wrote a post on:
Within this post I mapped out some of the preliminary steps in the Vinyāsa Krama of the breath that accompanies the performance of the form. Within this map for those beginning their journey into the mysteries of the breath within the mastery of the form, I offered four steps.
Here I want to review these four steps and especially focus on the last of the four, this time in relation to Nirālamba Bhujaṅgāsana or unsupported Cobra posture:
“In order to know where we are going to,
we must first know where we are coming from.”
Often in the Āsana aspect of Yoga practice, whether within our personal practice or a group class environment, the student is directed towards a goal.
This may be to do with a physical or structural foci such as the:
- Basic Performance of the Āsana
- Continuing Improvement of the Āsana
- Specific Intensification of the Āsana
- Introducing Stay into the Āsana
However the common factor within all of these options is that they are goal based.
This is fine as a general principle however as in any area of our lives, setting off towards any goal requires that we also have a clear idea of our starting point. For example, if I am wanting to travel to London I need to know whether I am starting from Birmingham or Brighton in order to set a direction and distance to navigate from. So it is with Āsana.
- Yoga has been adapted to life in the modern day.
- Any posture far removed from the normal posture is a problem and therefore risky if there is any problem with the body.
- Inverted postures present problems because of the tension that people carry in their necks.
- Postures that create tension should be avoided.
- Moving into the posture after the exhale is an adaptation.
- Krishnamacharya designed aids to help people achieve postures.
- Slow movement has a different action on the muscles, it is harder work.
- The role of Āsana, its purpose and goal must be respected.
- Opposite postures are a handicap but can help us to appreciate something different in a posture.
- We must feel ourselves and what is happening in a posture.