A simple life

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My passion for practicing Ashtanga yoga only allows to live a simple life. My priority in the morning is my yoga practice. Nothing else. Then comes the rest, whatever this is.

It’s so important to focus. Otherwise one is pulled in so many different directions.

Also next week I’ll focus on back bending. Yesterday night I couldn’t fall asleep. I thought of all the back bending asanas. There are so many variations. I got up and checked the book by Matthew Sweeny. I so wanted to know what are the back bending asanas of the Advanced A and B series. I forgot them. Some asanas will be impossible for me. Others are very interesting. I practice them already. What I’ve not yet tried is eka pada kapotasana. Elbow bridge is a great variation of the classic bridge. It stretches the upper body, but is easier to hold.

Even when I focus on back bending there are so many different asanas to practice and to explore that I have to make choices. One asana at a time. One breath at a time. One task at a time.

We all have 24 hours. We all need to sleep.

I wish everybody an intensive weekend.

How to learn something is important

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At home I hold the challenging asanas longer than only 5 breaths. I use a timer.

At home I do variations of asanas - sometimes easier ones to warm up the body, sometimes more challenging ones to keep me interested and to stay alert.

I use props when I think that it’s supportive. Favorite prop is the wall.

I’m curious when I feel ready again to drop back into urdhva dhanurasana.

Every day back bending

Kapotasana, August 2020

Kapotasana, August 2020

I’m happy with my schedule. 5 times a week I practice second series. Back bending asanas are almost the first asanas of the middle part of the second series. I still feel fresh and not exhausted at that time, after perhaps 30 minute of practicing. I feel strong enough to hold the asanas and I feel strong enough to repeat asanas. Some additional exercises develop strength, others. flexibility. I can feel how I progress. I take care that I move correctly. Tiny awkward movements and my SI joint is complaining.

When I’m in the above position I don’t try to push my hands against the wall to get out of the pose. The legs shall do the work. I move the hands away from the wall only a tiny bit and then I move the hips forward. It will become more challenging the deeper I can get into the pose. Repetition helps me to get deeper into the pose. But I also want to get out of it, the same way I got into the pose. The vinyasa are another chapter.

Challenges are learning opportunities.

One learns to understand the body.

Yet it’s also on opportunity to develop discipline and stamina.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow.

Gravity training

In search of effective methods to stretch and to get stronger I found Lucas and his website yogabody.com. I bought the gravity training and I like it for several reasons:

  • This is a routine that I do beside my Ashtanga yoga practice in the morning. Most trainings are too much for me, but the gravity training is doable. The mornings are reserved for Ashtanga, gravity training is best in the evening.

  • I practice gravity training in the evening before bedtime. After the below routine I sleep rather well.

  • Holding a pose for five minutes or three minutes makes a difference. It’s a challenge. If Lucas didn’t guide me through these five minutes I wouldn’t have been able to hold many of the positions that long. Firstly because it’s boring, secondly because of the discomfort which gets more intensive with every breath.

  • The idea is to exhale longer than to inhale. This is more relaxing. Only a relaxed body and mind stretches.

  • Above all I realized an improvement of many asanas, especially back bending. Hangman made the difference.

I’ll go more in details in blog posts to come.

Below I added all the positions that are part of the gravity training.

Stretching part 1: hamstrings

Hangman is held for 5 minutes. The other positions are each held for 2 minutes. This makes 18 minutes in total. One shall not underestimate the challenge.

Stretching part 2: hips

The first exercise stretches the hips and is held for 5 minutes. This is the only pose I can only hold for 2 minutes. No injuries is for me more important than anything else. The second picture is easy for me, but a huge challenge for many. In sum we have 15 minutes.

Stretching part 3: shoulders

Hangman is one of the most intensive exercises. I held the 5 minutes, but I was challenged. It bettered my back bending almost immediately. Pretzel pose is held for five minutes on each side and wide dog is held for 5 minutes as well. In total this makes 20 minutes.

Stretching part 4: back

To keep the legs together is the challenge in the first exercise. It’s held for 5 minutes. Picture two: Lucas hangs over a chair, much higher than my wheel. I have to find an appropriate chair. This gravity pose is held for 5 minutes as well. The last exercise is held for 3 minutes on each side. This makes 16 minutes.

Stretching part 5: wrists, twists and ankles

Reverse dog stretches the wrists and is held for 5 minutes. The twist is held for 5 minutes on each side. The legs are double bound. The last position is held for 3 minutes. It’s a painful pose, but doable. The discomfort disappears with each practice. In sum the last exercises need 18 minutes.

In sum it makes almost 90 minutes. This is as long as primary. Within the same time I practice only 15 different positions, but so much longer than only 5 breaths.

My insight is that if I need to stretch a body part it takes time. One must hold the position rather long in order to see results.

Sometimes I only exercise the first three parts. It’s a good preparation for the next practice after a break.

Being led through the exercises makes a difference. My money was spent very well.

Many of these exercises can get integrated into a regular practice.

Concentration - a mental skill

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Concentration is a skill. We exercise it when we practice yoga. It’s a skill that is useful whatever we do. To read a book requires concentration. To learn anything requires concentration. Even to watch a program on TV requires focus. Many people switch from one channel to the other. It’s often a lock of concentration. Yet switching channels means a story is missed. The spectator gets glimpses of many different stories.

A few years back my morning yoga practices lasted more than 2 hours. Strength was needed to practice so long, but also concentration. To practice so long bettered my ability to focus. The group session helped me. I didn’t lose this skill when I started practicing at home again. I don’t make breaks during my yoga practice at home. I don’t check the mail or my alarm clock. I focus on my practice.

I listen to the sound of the breath.

I gaze at a focus point.

I concentrate on the correct movement.

After two hours I’m exhausted. Not only the body has reached a limit, also the mind.

Being able to concentrate was a motivation for Indian students to practice yoga. In order to study effectively concentration is necessary.

Another advantage of a focused practice is that everything else seems to fade away. No to-do-list exists when I practice. All the issues, self-made or not disappear. Nothing but the sound of the breath, the gazing point, the performance of the asana is important. This is a huge relief.

After a yoga practice the world looks differently.

I set a timer for my yoga practice. I have a time frame within I concentrate on the practice. It’s also useful to create a time frame for other activities. Not to jump form one activity to the other creates a more relaxed life. It helps to reduce our daily stop. One step at a time is a good advice.

Dhanurasana

Dhanurasana, August 2020

Dhanurasana, August 2020

In order to deepen my understanding of any asana I wonder what would be an easier version of a position and what would be a more challenging position. I learn about variations. I also wonder if props make sense and if yes, which ones.

To hold an asana longer than 5 breaths makes it more challenging. It allows to understand the challenge. Does one need stamina? Is it a strength pose? Does stretching discomfort make the asana challenging?

Dhanurasana requires strength. To lift the legs means that one fights against gravity. The arms support the movement. Nevertheless I saw yogis struggle to hold this pose in yoga classes. Gravity is a strong force.

For dhanurasana it can be supportive to pose a block under the rib case. This makes it easier to move the legs backwards. This stretches the upper body and deepens the asana.

In Sivananda Yoga they swing forward and backward. It’s a dynamic movement that is funny and allows to get deeper into that pose. The breath helps to swing. Up to 15 times one can swing forwards and backwards.

Dhanurasana, August 2020

Dhanurasana, August 2020

Eka pada dhanurasana is another variation. Only one leg is held. The other one remains straight on the floor.

This pose looks so much better, when the feet are pointed. I like lines, curves. These 90 degree angles stop the flow of the energy. This is why I also think it looks more harmonious if the neck and head are in line with the spine. To have a bend at the neck is not necessary. Why should this be done?

This pose aims rather to train the muscles of the back. The upper body get stretched. The shoulders move backwards. The general movement is upwards. This back bending asana is reachable for beginners.

I missed the Friday practice. Saturday is my day off from Ashtanga. I’ll probably do gravity training tonight to start a tiny bit more prepared. A missed practice is a missed opportunity. I doesn’t make sense to practice the other day 4 hours. Only today counts.

Sometimes I think that these missed practices are good for my body. I get other things done, which means less stress and my body has more time to relax.. This is important for bodies that are many decades on that globe. 🌍 I aim for 6 practices a week, but three practices are also OK.

Bhekasana

Bhekasana, August 2020

Bhekasana, August 2020

Bhekasana is the next asana after salabhasana in the intermediate Ashtanga series. It’s not my favorite asana. It feels awkward to press the feet to the ground. It’s an asana that is part of the game. It teaches me to practice also less liked asanas. Likes and dislikes change. Simply being an observer is a good mental exercise.

Usually I do an extra exercise before this pose:

This exercise is rather easy if one allows that the knees move away from each other. The challenge is to keep the thighs parallel to each other. This lengthens the thighs. It stretches the front muscles of the legs. This allows to get deeper into back bending.

Some asanas I like, others I don’t like. I practice them all with the same passion. Something would be missed if I practiced only asanas that I like and that I’m able to do nicely. The variety of different asanas makes the practice so interesting.

Salabhasana

Salabhasana A, August 2020

Salabhasana A, August 2020

Salabhasana B, August 2020

Salabhasana B, August 2020

Salabhasana is the first back bending asana of the second Ashtanga series. For me it became an important asana: It’s an asana that requires strength. Gravity holds the feet and upper body on the floor. The muscles of the back side of the body can overcome this force.

But first a story:

When my back felt better again I started practicing second series again. I lied on my abdomen, ready for salabhasana. I couldn’t lift my feet at all. There was no connection to body. First I laughed. Then I gave the order: lift, lift. Nothing moved. Exactly that’s the feeling of paralyzed people I thought. I don’t know of course. What to do? I moved my hands under my thighs and supported the movement. Finally my legs could lift. The feeling what to do came back. From that moment on I knew how important this asana is. Having strong back muscles also protects from injuries. All joints are safer when strong muscles surround them.

When I practice salabhasana these days I always add extra asanas:

  1. I usually start with a dynamic exercise. I swing one leg upwards up to 10 times, sometimes also only 5 times. After each time I change sides. I do three sets.

  2. Then I do the exercise with both legs which is much more difficult. Often I only manage it to lift the legs 5 times. Here too, I have a dynamic phase and a static phase. The static phase means that I lift the legs and hold the position as long as possible. Of course it’s possible to use a timer.

  3. Then do some exercises for the upper body. I start with the dynamic exercise and finish with the static exercise. The hand position in picture 3 is rather easy. The arms pull me up so to say.

  4. The arm position in picture makes this variation rather challenging. The elbows shall move backwards. I start with a dynamic exercise. Then I try to hold this variation.

After these exercises salabhasana A and B are much better. I use my hands to support my legs. Yet it’s rather an impulse than a support.

Some yogini through their heads back. My neck is not that flexible. I also think that the form of a banana looks more harmonious. To have a steep curve at the neck looks not very natural. But we all have different bodies.

There are so many variations. Enjoy the ride. Work on a strong back to avoid injuries.

Salabhasana variation, August 2020

Salabhasana variation, August 2020

Moods

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At 5 am I switched off the alarm clock. It’s August and still easy to get up that early because it’s summer time. At 6 am we have bright day. Nothing was obviously so exciting that I got up. First opportunity for a great start was missed.

At 7 am I got up. Well-rested. But oh, how stiff I was and my back hurt. I must have had a bad position while sleeping. I took a shower. I could scarcely bend forward to dry my hair with the hair dryer. Slowly my body woke up and I could stretch my legs. My mood didn’t get better when I realized that I had gained 2 pounds (overnight - haha). Never ever I’ll buy white chocolate with a fluid mango filling. It’s devilish delicious and makes addicted at once.

I thought it would be a good idea to have a French breakfast. Down with this healthy breakfast consisting of fruit and soy yogurt, nuts and wrecked flaxseed. The thought became reality and a bit later we enjoyed black coffee with true French croissant. The walking to the bakery must have relaxed my back. Second opportunity missed, I thought. To practice yoga before breakfast usually makes every day special and awesome.

But what is such a soft croissant? It’s like nothing. It’s so fluffy in the mouth. I didn’t feel full and I stepped on the mat. I set my timer for 2 hours and started to practice. Firstly I was so weak, that I lied on my belly on the floor when I wanted to hold chaturanga dandasana. The second sun salutation was already better. My back was OK again. I had a most intensive practice. What a surprise. Never miss a practice, I swore.

Moods are not good decision maker. They come and go. Moods are moody. Today they bring enthusiasm, tomorrow laziness or desperation and then ambition again. I had some conversations lately with people who have well-groomed gardens with flowers and fruit, with vegetables and grass. These gardens are like a piece of earth from paradise. The owner told me, if you want to have a nice garden, because it’s so much more beautiful to enjoy a glass of beer there if it’s a beautiful place you have to put in the work.

I like it to be flexible and strong. Yet this means that I have to put time and effort into this goal. Every day.

If I hadn’t practiced today I would have missed something, I would have missed a joyful, intensiv, sweaty practice. Stiffness disappeared. I got stronger with every sun salutation. I was focused. An excellent day started a bit later as usual, a bit differently as usual. My yoga practice turned my day to something special. It grounded me.

On the picture is purvottanasana. The Ashtanga practitioner pose the hands with fingers pointing to the feet. When I was in Sivananda classes I got corrected at once. I should turn the hands so that the fingers would point at the opposite side. I think this variation feels better. But today I took a picture of the classic Asthanga version.

Some describe this asana as a back bending asana. For me it’s rather a counter asana to paschimottanasana, but a very challenging one. It requires a lot of strength to keep the feet together and to lift up the body. The Sivananda yogis practice variations that make the asana even more challenging. Buh.

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How to continue?

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August already.

In August I’ll practice second series again, every morning, except on Fridays. Fridays are for primary. I got stronger, I think it’s good to focus on back bending much more than I did by now. Once a week primary is enough.In the last months I altered primary and second series. Second series has a lot of forward bending asanas as well. Only the vinyasa of primary get neglected. I realized that I don’t progress when I repeat the vinyasa without adding strength training. Strength training can be done in an extra session. To repeat the same ineffective exercises again and again makes no sense.

As preparation for today I did the gravity training, that I bought at @yogabody. Hangman especially stretches my shoulders and upper body. Usually progress comes so slowly that I don’t realize it. Yet since I practice hangman three times a week in the evening I realize how easier back bending is.

What is hangman?

I use the video by Lucas, who leads me through the five minutes. At first the stretching pain seemed unbearable. This changed quickly. Nevertheless stamina is necessary to hold this pose. I’m willing to do a lot for a nice deep back bending. Stretching takes time. To go from one position to the next is avoiding the work.

Have a good start……