Primary

Friday means primary for Ashtangis

Paschimottanasana, June 2021

Paschimottanasana, June 2021

Friday is the last practice of the yoga week. It’s dedicated to primary. The asanas are mainly forward bending asanas. The vinyasa are very challenging.

I’m not yet there where was 4 years ago, when I injured my back. My core muscles are too weak. arm muscles and hip flexors perhaps, too. There is a lot of work to do. I have ideas, so I don’t feel stuck.

Whenever I see a yogini performing advanced asana, I know that this yogini has learned to be disciplined. It’s never only about the body and the asana. The mind is involved as well. Most yogini who are able to perform advanced asanas have learned how important it is to keep practicing on a daily basis.

I also know that frustration is part of the journey. For me this is true. To realize that the yoga journey has a lot of set backs, injuries included, can be frustrating. As a yogini we learn to handle these feelings. We learn to accept that positive and negative emotions are part of the game. It’s nothing to fight, but to observe.

Jumping through (forwards and backwards) is almost lost. But I have ideas. A month ago or so I bought a handstand training. Perhaps this is the solution. Might be that after the training I’m able to do a press handstand, but I won’t be able to jump through without touching the floor. This would be so funny, that I’m entertained already now.

My dear readers, please enjoy that my blog is advertising free. I don’t see my readers as potential buyers, but as yoga practitioners. We all need spaces that allow us to relax.

Enjoy the week-end.

On Sunday the next yoga week begins. Till then enjoy what is.

My plan is to update this blog after lunch, before napping. This might allow to write more often.

Thank you to those who write to me that they miss my blog posts. It’s very much appreciated.

Marichyasana A

_DSC4966.jpg

Today I took pictures of marichyasana A, B, C and D. It’s in sum 8 pictures. I thought I’d need an hour, not more. Yet I had to do all pictures twice or even three times. The time was spent well. When I saw the pictures I couldn’t believe it. Why do I move my elbows so high, I wondered. It looks strange. The arms stretch downwards along the body. This supports the forward movement of the upper body.

On the first picture I had moved the elbows close to the body. The elbow doesn’t hang in the air any more. This looks nicer and it feels more correct. The shoulders always move away from the ears. The longer one practices, the more details get noticed.

That I had bound my hair was rather an aesthetic reason.

  • Pictures are a.great tool for home practitioners, who have nobody who gives adjustments. But also for those who go to classes it’s very useful to take pictures. A teacher can never ever adjust everything.

  • Pictures document the journey. It’s very motivating to see progress.

  • Pictures often give me ideas what else I can try.

Marichyasana A, 2012

Marichyasana A, 2012

This third picture is taken in 2012. I realize that I even stretched my arms. I’ll surely try this the next time.

Pictures are one of the best methods to get feed-back.

Three similar asanas

The first asana is uttanasana. It Sanskrit it means ‘intense stretch’.

The second asana is called hasta padanghustasana. It means ‘hand-toe stretching’. Hasta means hand. Pada means foot and anghusta means big toe.

The third asana is called pada hastasana, which translates ‘hand-foot posture’.

The asanas are rather similar, yet also different.

The pictures show me that there is still potential. Yet when I started with yoga I could scarcely touch the floor with my fingers when my legs were stretched.

Lately I improved all the forward bending asana. I let gravity do the work. The crucial difference was the time. I hang in the following pose for 5 minutes.

M legs are slightly bent and I hang forward. It’s important not to move. One can close the eyes, it’s OK to open the eyes. The hands shall not touch the floor. Gravity does the work. Exhaling shall be much longer than inhaling, because it helps to relax. Only a relaxed body is able to stretch. The nerve system must feel save. The most important point is: Stay in this position for five minutes. This makes the difference. Progress will come fast.

Many people sit all day long. Nevertheless it becomes more and more difficult also for those with a sedentary life to bend forward when getting older. I’m sure, that people who bend forward every day in the above way will be able to do this till the age of 100. They won’t need a person who helps putting on shoes. Staying flexible gives independence. What a gift.

To bend forward is also an inversion for those who don’t like to do headstand for whatever reason. Sometimes health issues prevent people to do poses.. The heart is above the head in this forward bending asana. This is the criteria for an inversion. This pose is refreshing and energizing.

All stretching asanas help to become patient. Yet practicing correctly helps to progress faster.

Ashtanga primary

Nov 2020, squat

Nov 2020, squat

Friday is primary day. I was looking forward to primary and all the forward bending asanas. Today I realized that I’m far away from my practice a few years ago. This is frustrating. I got so weak. It’s not possible to do all the vinyasa. If one likes Ashtanga, one must also like the vinyasa system, the dynamic connection between the asanas. That is an important part that makes Ashtanga to what it is. What is also true: If it were easy, it would be boring.

I consider to practice primary also on Wednesday. I’ll reflect on some supportive exercises.

Today was my last Ashtanga practice of this week. It feels deserved to have a day off.

Utthita parsvottanasana

_DSC1610.jpg

Monday is primary day for Ashtanga Yoga practitioners. Primary is focused on forward bending asanas mainly.

The back of the body gets stretched. The hamstrings might sing a song about forward bending asanas.

I’m surely a fan to practice effectively. I personally want to do what works. Miracles don’t happen.

Stretching takes time. It takes much longer if not done correctly. It takes a felt eternity if injuries happen. Injuries are setbacks.

How to stretch:

  1. Firstly the closer the feet the more challenging the asana is. It’s good advice to move from easy to more challenging. Gravity helps to get deeper into the pose. Yet, the pose must be held longer than 5 breaths if one wants to see results. One minute is a good beginning. More than 5 minutes is not necessary. If the asanas becomes a piece of cake 5 breaths might be enough. There are other asanas who scream for attention…..

  2. The weight is on the back leg. Also this shift helps to deepen the asana.

  3. Engaging the abdomen and the pelvis floor show sudden effects.

  4. With each inhaling the body stretches, with each exhaling the upper body moves closer to the front leg.

I used the arms as a leverage. It helped me a lot. Yet this variation must be used with care. Once I injured myself. Hamstring were pulled. We always remember the injuries. As it can be seen on the picture this variation helps me to move deeper into the pose. It’s more about lengthening the upper body. With the arm as leverage it helps to keep the back straight.

Most standing asanas can be practiced everywhere and even with clothes (if those are not too tight). I always preferred clothes that allowed me to move. Minimum requirement of a pair of trousers is that it allows me to sit in lotus pose. Sometimes I try this in the shop. One can feel at once if a piece is comfortable or not.

My Monday morning practice was so intensive, I didn’t like to spoil it with taking pictures.

As mentioned. Stretching takes time. When practicing correctly the process is faster. Yet it takes time to stretch. Stretching can be done often. Take care and stretch.

Being flexible gives me a feeling of freedom. My body doesn’t limit myself.

This is how the asana looks after having applied the leverage with the arms. Abdomen are engaged. I guess I was one minute in that pose.

_DSC1613.jpg

I get stronger again

_DSC1003-Bearbeitet.jpg

On Fridays Ashtanga Yoga practitioners focus on the first series. So did I this morning. Primary helps to get stronger due to the many many vinyasa between asanas and sides. I integrate the handstand drills that I learned lately. That is I knew many of them, but with a goal in mind I’m motivated to do the extra work.

My feet are always sliding on the mat when I jump forward. In order to make the next step I must film myself. A cursing yogini is a contradiction, but each time when one of my foot is sliding I curse. I have the feeling that I’m so close to a nice swinging through my arms. Yet when the floor stops me, the movement is uneven. The handstand training is very supportive. Perhaps I won’t learn handstand, but to do a nice vinyasa one day with all these handstand drills.

My handstand training with Kino motivates me also to work on strength. Practicing with an online community is a joy as well. Every single practitioner gives energy to the group and receives energy. This exchange of energy is perhaps not so strong like in a yoga class, when I sweat next to yogini who fight with the asanas like I do. Yet the energy of the community is there and it’s very positive.

Yepee, I practiced. There is no discussion if or if not. I don’t ask myself what mood I have today. I know it will change as soon as I start with the first inhalation. It will change during the practice. Highlights are experienced during every practice. In the beginning I’m strong. The longer I practice the more exhausted I feel. The stretching pain feels awful. But when finally the poses feel good and when I can relax when I practice once challenging asanas it’s rather satisfying.

That I don’t omit vinyasa anymore is a huge step. It took me years to recover from my back injury.

It’s always a joy, when I feel no pain at all in my back. I don’t even think about my back when I practice these days. This is a gift.

Marichyasana A and B

_DSC8605-Bearbeitet.jpg

Marichyasana A and B are the first asanas that have the leg behind the back even though the asanas are not called so. It can be seen in all pictures that the knee is higher than the back. It’s more or less behind the back. So not the entire leg is behind the head, but the knee. It’s a beginning.

On days when leg behind head asanas, the true ones (supta kurmasana, eka pada sirsasana, dwi pada sirsasana etc…) are not possible I practice marichyasana A and B instead. These asana serve sometimes as a warm up, sometimes it’s enough to practice them instead of the more challenging eka pada sirsasana for instance.

These two asana can give hope that these crazy LBH-poses might become possible one day.

Believing that something is possible is often the first step. All the teacher that I had helped me here a lot. They saw a potential in my practice, that I haven’t seen. I thought I was too old (15 years ago) to drop back from urdhva dhanurasana. One day it happened. I got encouraged.I fell on my head, next time my arms could prevent this. My last teacher was convinced that I can reach my calves when bending backwards. I trust now that this will be possible one day. I never doubted that LBH-poses wouldn’t be possible. I always knew one day one leg or two legs would be behind my neck or back.

Marichyasana A and B are no asanas with fear factor. In order to perform them one needs patience, not so much courage. It’s not even a balancing asana. Stretching can be demanding enough. It takes time.

When I practice marichyasana A and B I feel good. No discomfort is felt. I can try to get deeper into the asana. This feels good, too. In marichyasana A this means to move the chin further forward. In marichyasana B it means to bring the chin to the floor and not the top of the head. Bandhas are always engaged and support the movements.

A few days back I flipped through Mr Swenson’s bible. He doesn’t move so much forward in Marichyasana A. He still can gaze at the big toe. There are obviously variations that used to be accepted in the community.

On Tuesdays I focus on back bending. Today was such a day where forward bending asanas were difficult after all these back bending asanas. I exercised marichyasana A instead of eka pada sirsasana.

Flexibility can mean a lot.

Janu sirsasana A, B and C

There are three versions of Janu sirsasana. Janu means knee and sirsasana means head. We move the head to the stretched knee. The position of the bent leg differs in each position.

  1. In janu sirsasana A the bent leg moves to the side. The hip opens. It’s perhaps even a good preparation for lotus pose if someone has a very stiff hip joint. For me Janu sirsasana A is always possible. I felt never so stiff that I couldn’t do this position. It always feels good as well.

  2. In janu sirsasana B one sits on the heel of the bent leg. The heel touches the perineum. It gets stretched and can remain flexible.

  3. In janu sirsasna C the ball of the foot of the bent leg is on the floor, the heel shows upwards. Even the little toe gets stretched. As the heel points upwards it can give a massage of the lower abdomen.

When I practice these three positions of primary Ashtanga Yoga I always think how holistic yoga is. Not the tiniest body part is forgotten. There is a stretch for every muscle. The inner organs are considered, yet even the little toe. I don’t know another activity that gives so much attention to each and every body part.

This is one reason why I love yoga so much. It balances the body, if practiced correctly.

The corona times can serve as a pointer to establish a home practice. Being able to practice alone is part of the yoga concept. Yoga is something that we learn for ourselves. Not much is needed. A calm place, a yoga mat and time. Ashtanga Yoga and some other styles as well have a fixed order of asanas. Nobody meeds to be a choreograph. Just following the breath and the fixed order of asanas is enough. With experience one becomes able to adjust the practice to the own needs.

For me the corona times are a pointer to the breath. Those who passed away because they got the virus often got a pneumonia. Not being able to breathe anymore because the lungs are infected, is a horrible imagination. Usually we breathe automatically, unconsciously. To establish a calm and deep breath around the clock can calm and intensify every life. To train the lungs is surely also useful. To hold the breath, to exhale longer as usual, to exhale as fast and intensive as possible and to pull in the abdomen are pranayama techniques that help us to become familiar with our so important breath. Breathing deeply can be pure joy. Yoga can teach us that not much is possible to have joy in life. Our body can be the source of great joy and satisfaction.

Keep breathing deeply and evenly, a balanced life will follow…….

No redundant movements

Tirieng mukha eka pada paschimottanasana

Tirieng mukha eka pada paschimottanasana

The next asana of primary is tirieng mukha eka pada paschimottanasana.

Usually I jump to a sitting position from downward facing dog with the bent leg already in the above position. Before getting into the pose I feel the impulse to adjust my calves. Yet this is not necessary. It’s a redundant movement that only distracts. Every movement, also the small ones need energy. Hundred small redundant movements add up. The energy is no more focused. There is a pause. The even breathing is interrupted.

There are a lot of such little movements. I name only a few here: adjusting the hair, looking around, pulling the clothes, scratching, checking the time, drinking water. For me my yoga practice teaches me to use up my energy wisely. Yoga is a concentration exercise. What needs to be done to get into a pose has to be done. This shall be done with the required energy, not slack and not too hard. Body tension is great. Movements that have no purpose are redundant. All these little extra activities exhaust in sum and make a practice longer than it must be. The practice looks tattered, unfocused.

Imagine a ballet dancer adjusting the clothes during a performance, or scratching the body.

The more professional someone is, the more focused she is on the necessities. This all comes with time and a lot exercise. But one must also realize these movements. They are often not conscious.

Lately we saw a politician who was blinking with the eyes all the time. I’m sure he was not conscious about this nervous tick. Filming might help to find these distractions of a untrained mind and body.

Another example is cooking. When I cook I search my spoon, my oven cloth, the knife a hundred times. My cooking activities are not streamlined. I feel like a beginner and that’s what I am. This is why cooking is sometimes so stressy. I guess I could do half of the movements I do if I were better organized. If every single movement were clearly defined my meals were ready to eat much faster. Every tool needs a place and there it should be found always. Before starting everything should be mise en place. And so on. I cook every day something new. In order to establish a routine one must repeat a meal, an exercise.

In all the cooking shows it can be seen very quickly if someone is a cook with good routines and a focused practice or not.

Back to the asana above: When I want to get out of the pose and when I lift the upper body therefore, I don’t through back the head. The neck keeps in line with the spine. It has no purpose to do this wild thing. I guess this used to be a yoga posture fashion to move the head backwards as much as possible.

No adjusting the calves tomorrow for me!!! It’s not necessary to follow each impulse.

Gazing towards

The forth asana of the middle part of the Ashtanga primary series is ardha baddha padma paschimottanasana. There is a similar asana called ardha baddha padmottanasana. It’s part of the standing asanas. It has the same form, but it’s more demanding, because the asana is performed while standing. The challenge is to balance. The two poses feel so differently, that’s why I discovered the similarities rather late.

Ardha baddha padmottanasana was one of the asanas I thought I would never accomplish. It will never happen that I reach my big toe with my hands, I thought….till I found out that I can twist to reach the toe. When the hand hold the toe one can twist back. In the sitting version it’s easier to focus on stretching forward. Forward is my key word. In most of the forward bending asanas we move forward.

Every asana has a gazing point. Years ago I attended a workshop with Lino Miele. The gazing points were a topic. He emphasized that one is looking towards a gazing point not at a gazing point. The example was adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog). The abdomen are supposed to be engaged. The gazing point is the navel. When the abdomen are engaged it’s never possible to see the navel. We gaze towards the navel.

Primary series consists mainly of forward bending asanas. Dristi is the big toe very often. It’s possible to look upwards or forwards with the eyes without moving the head. For me it doesn’t feel relaxed when I push the chin forward so that I can see the toe. I feel pressure in the neck when I do so. In the meantime I can put the chin on my shinbone, but this is not the main goal. The gazing point tells me in which direction I have to move, not downward to the leg, but forward. It doesn’t mean that I have to see the toe.

I checked the Bible. For me this is the book by Mr Sweeney. His neck is very curved. I prefer to keep the neck almost in line with the back. As always: experiment. Our bodies are so differently. When experimenting we get to know our own body and the asanas as well.

Practice report:

At 7 am I started with primary. It’s Friday today and no extra exercises were planned. Nevertheless it took me 100 minutes till I finished the series. I had to leave out a lot of vinyasa, because I’m not strong enough to do them. Three times I set my timer for a minute to stay longer in an asana. This is so useful. To stretch the body requires time and confidence. Repetitions and holding at least some of the poses for minimum 1 minute is effective stretching. One minute can be very long. It’s easier to have an external clue, when one minute is over in comparison to count the breaths. That’s why I set a timer.

This was my last Ashtanga practice for this week. My mantra in the beginning is ‘Yes, I can’. At the end I whisper ‘Thank you’.

Corona times:

Old people risk to die when they get the virus. Yesterday they showed old people in bed. They were without any strength. Even walking was too exhausting.

One must know that if elder people don’t exercise, they cannot keep the status quo. Inactive people at a certain age become weaker and weaker. This is why it is so important to do strength training when getting older. I’m convinced that life needn’t to aggravate with age, but one must do something for it. It’s more important than ever.

I have to persuade myself to do push ups. I prefer core training. Nevertheless to do strength training regularly is not easy. I bought apps already. Callisthenics speaks to me. Tomorrow is my yoga free day, what about some strength training exercises? I think this is a good idea.

Don’t get careless. Life is good. Times are dangerous.

Purvottanasana

Purvottanasana

Purvottanasana

Purvottanasana is a counter pose for paschimottanasana. To keep the body straight and to prevent the feet from moving apart from each other requires a certain strength. For me it’s not a back bending asana, it’s rather an asana that builds strength. Without engaging the core, one cannot keep the body straight i.e.

Before you keep reading, do yourself a favor and try a little exercise: Stand up and swing your arms around your body naturally. Don’t force anything, only move them from the front of the body to the back.

You’ll notice that the palms of the hands will show forward while you swing the arms backwards. The finger point backwards not forward. This makes it much easier to open the chest. The shoulders can move backwards easily as well. It feels awkward to point the fingers forward.

In Ashtanga yoga the fingers point to the feet in that pose. This is a burden for the shoulders. It makes it more difficult to lift up the upper body. The shoulder carry the weight of the body in a rather unnatural position. This prepares for injuries. Whatever one exercises on a daily basis or almost daily basis is worth to scrutinize.

About 2 years ago I had this back injury. Purvottanasana was no more possible for me after this sacroiliac joint injury to be more precise . I tried to find alternatives or variations for this asana and studied this pose in greater detail. The different hand position makes this pose safer for me. This pose feels much better when the fingers are posed like in the picture. Since I changed the hand position, this asana is possible again for me.

Btw, last year I practiced with the Sivananda yogis. The teacher corrected me at once when they saw my hand position that I usually practiced. I should pose the hands like on the picture above, they told me. That’s how I practice this asana at home these days.

Please experiment and tell me what feels better for you.

Primary on Fridays

_DSC6999-Bearbeitet.jpg

I think I had a balanced practice even though the focus was forward bending asanas.

A balanced practice covers different types of asanas:

  • forward bending asanas

  • back bending asanas

  • twists

  • inversions

  • balancing asanas

  • side stretch

The many many forward bending asanas of primary get balanced on Sunday again, when back bending is the focus.

Today I was able to do three times urdhva dhanurasana. It was hard, but doable. I progress again.

I’m happy that I can still do one of the most intensive forward bending asanas: supta kurmasana (see picture). I take my time till I do the pose. I warm up the body. First I put one leg behind the head while lying on my back. This is more relaxing than septa kurmasana itself. I practice yoga nidrasana, eka pada sirsasana till I finally get to supta kurmasana. The pose feels already better, but not as it used to be.

The final goal is to feel excellent in an asana. The path goes from feeling discomfort to feeling great in a pose.

Practices like today give a lot of motivation to practice daily.

Tomorrow is a day off from yoga……

Practice for your own well-being

_DSC7015-Bearbeitet.jpg

Practice daily for your own well-being, Sharath said on Instagram. It’s so true. This is such a good reason to step on the mat on a daily basis.

It’s hot here. It’s amazing how flexible the body becomes when it’s hot (above 30° Celsius). Also sweating is so much easier.

My focus was primary today. That is the focus is forward bending asanas.

I joined another challenge on Instagram. It’ s rather fun than a challenge. Under the hashtag #thursdayswesplit yogis publish their splits every Thursday. It’s motivating to work on #hanumanasna. Within a week a lot can happen. The splits are a basic asana. All stretching asanas must be practiced with care. It takes time to stretch. Patience is required. Every injury means a set-back.

 
_DSC6945-Bearbeitet.jpg
 
_DSC6962-Bearbeitet.jpg

Join the party on Instagram .

Primary series on Friday

_DSC6628.jpg

My biggest obstacles on my yoga path are trips. This usually interrupts my routines. I love both, I love to travel and I love to be at home. But I practice much more often at home than on the road. It’s amazing how quick I can realize progress.

My practices are great these days. I know that if I want to avoid future injuries it’s important not to be overzealous. Nothing can be forced. A daily practice is what will bring success. In addition one must practice the asanas correctly. Sometimes less is more. One must learn to be very attentive to the messages of the body. If this basic attitude is not respected two main things can happen. First one doesn’t progress, what is frustrating. Or one gets injured in the long run, which is even more frustrating.

The asanas deepen with time, but also the understanding of the asanas.

I practice the above pose differently than I used to do a few years ago. The most obvious is that I’m on the ball of my feet. This feels better to me. My feet move inwardly, they don’t press away from each other, exactly the opposite is the case.

The shoulder moves down.

This asana is one of the standing asanas. It comes rather early in the series and it’s difficult. No asana is too underestimate. It’s a deep twist when performed correctly and a slight balancing challenge.

Summary:

  • practice daily

  • practice correctly

  • listen to the body, sometimes less is more

When an asana is mastered it feels good. It amazes me, but the deeper I can get into an asana the easier it becomes and the better it feels.

Enjoy your practices.

Padmasana variations

Quick summary:

Half lotus pose gets introduced in the standing asanas (ardha baddha padmottanasana). In the middle part of primary come 2 poses with full lotus pose. Garbha pindasana has a dynamic phase and a static phase. The pose ends with Kukkutasana which has also a balancing aspect.

My topic these days is didactic. How can I learn an asana faster and safer. What are the tiny steps towards the end form. Do I need more flexibility or strength? Have I understood the technique to perform an asana? These are the questions. It makes sense to move from easier variations to more difficult ones. Easier variations always exist. Another reason for knowing easier variations is that it can happen that an asana is no more possible because of injuries. Instead of omitting an important asana, easier variation can do the job.

First I analyse the asana: Garbha pindasana requires to do lotus pose. It’s also a forward bending asana.

This is exactly what I did. I put my legs in lotus pose and bent forward. Gravity helps. When bending forward it’s important to stretch first. It helps to create length. The movement starts from the hips.

The second variations uses the arms as a leverage. This pose should be applied with much care. The shoulders are very sensitive joints.

The third variation is usually recommended in classes as an interim step toward garbha pindasana. It has a balancing aspect. In order to hold the pose it’s good advice to engage the hip muscles. The arms shall not do all the work.

The forth pictures is the most relaxing one. Lying on the back is always relaxing. With the arms one can support the movement. Finally a pose shall feel good.

Experimenting with variations deepens the understanding of the asanas.

It’s Tuesday today. I focus on back bending.

What a joy

  1. I had no back pain at all neither during my practice nor afterwards. I’m so thankful. A miracle happened.

  2. I practiced 90 minutes. This is my goal. I don’t fill this time with too much contents. One day I practice primary, the other day second series, but this is only my orientation. On the mat I realize what is possible and what not. Too much ambition might still be too dangerous. If I filled the time on the mat with easy poses, that would be great for me, too. Usually I experience a certain dynamic. In the beginning I’m still stiff. With time I become more flexible and I want to challenge myself. At the end I feel a certain tiredness and it becomes more difficult to keep practicing. As every day I worked on the splits.

  3. I could do all the core asanas of primary. Only supta kurmasana felt difficult. The other asanas were even relaxing.

  4. The practice relaxes my mind. All the issues that stalk me faded away. I focus on my practice, nothing else is important. That’s one of the reasons why I love yoga. It refreshes the body, the mind and the soul. After every yoga practice I feel exhausted, but also like new born.