Kate and Dana just came over for our Friday morning session. Often we do restorative poses because one or the other of us has some sort of issue (headache, sore joints, etc.).
Today we did a little bit of everything: body rolling to start, then alternating Adho Mukha Svansana (downward-facing dog) and Uttanasana (standing forward bend), then a few standing poses, including Ardha Chandrasana (half moon) for balance, then some seated poses, the ones that are well nigh impossible for Kate and me, and dead easy for Dana – Upavista Konasana (seated forward bend), Baddha Konasana (cobbler) and Paschimottanasana (seated forward bend), then what we referred to as a lying-around pose, or Supta Virasana (reclining hero), and then Savasana (corpse).
In Savasana, my brain was chattering away a mile a minute. I was thinking about several people I know who are in some pain (physical and/or emotional). I kept reining myself in, reminding myself to breathe. Finally I thought “breathe in black, breathe out white, bless them all.” I took a deep breath and then the timer rang to signal the end of practice. It was good.
The other day I did something nice in my practice I’d forgotten about. I did a sort of a flow of standing poses.
Let’s see if I can describe this. I started in Trikonasana (triangle). Then instead of coming up out of it, I brought my torso and arms upright and bent my front knee, resulting in Virabhadrasana II (warrior II). After that, I swung over my knee into Uttitha Parsvakonasana (extended side angle). From there, I leaned forward and put my hand on a waiting block, straightened my front leg and rose into Ardha Chandrasana (half moon). When I came down from A.C. into Trikonasana again, I turned my feet forward into Prasarita Padottanasana (forward wide-angle).
Then I did the whole process in reverse on the other side, ending in Trikonasana.
Somewhere in there I did Parsvottanasana, but I can’t quite remember where.
Finally, after a year, the sciatica is in abeyance and my hands and arms are strong enough to haul myself out of the hanging upside down pose. I’d been doing an alternate inversion with feet on the wall pointing down, legs straight, and the sling around the top of my hips – essentially Dandasana (staff) upside down against the wall. Now I can go back to the bat-like inversion.
Deb, who is almost as stiff as I am, asked how to get into Supta Virasana (reclining hero).
Before I get into the pose I warm up with a few other poses.
Virasana (hero) – Kneel down with knees together and feet just far enough apart for you to sit between. Your heels should be snugged in to your hips. If your sitting bones are not on the floor in this pose, put a block or folded blanket under you. Make your seat as high as necessary to be comfortable. If you’re just hanging there in space you’ll damage your knees. If your knees bother you, roll up a couple of washcloths and shove them behind your knees as you sit down. That gives you a little extra space. You can also roll up a blanket or sticky mat to put behind your knees for more stretch.
This is also a good pose to sit in while doing arm stretches, and it’s a good TV yoga pose.
Lunge – You can do this with your toes bent and your back leg straight, as you see in the thumbnail, or you can do it with your knee on the floor (or blanket) and your toes extending behind you. You can feel this working on your psoas.
Those two are the ones I always do, but there are lots of others. Anything that opens up the front of the hip is good, and anything that stretches the shins and tops of the feet. One way to do that is to roll up a blanket halfway, and put it crosswise under your ankles in Virasana. Sit that way for a bit. Then move the blanket closer to your toes and sit that way for a bit. Keep moving it down until it’s under your toes. Ow, but it stretches parts of your body that rarely get a stretch.
Now for Supta Virasana. I don’t do the version shown here. I make two modifications (more if you count variations on propping).
First of all, I only put one leg back beside me. The other one remains in front of me with the knee bent, foot on the floor. This is much nicer to the low back.
Second, I use whatever props my body needs that day. Usually that means a bolster or a pile of blankets folded into a rectangle more or less a foot wide and three feet long. If I’m using a bolster, I put a folded blanket lengthwise on it and then another one crosswise for my head. When you get back in the pose, you don’t want your chin pointing up in the air. Your forehead and chin should be level or pointing toward your chest. So you may need to adjust the crosswise blanket when you get there.
I keep some other props nearby. Sometimes I sit on a block if my knees are especially stiff. More often I stuff a folded blanket under my seat – it’s easier to remove as I relax into the pose. Sometimes I put a sandbag on my hip.
To get into the pose, I test first to see how close I am to the props. I don’t want them poking into my low back. I kneel in Virasana (both legs) and put my hand between my back and the bolster. A fist width is good for me.
Then I raise up into kneeling and swing one leg forward with my foot on the floor. Then I put my arms behind me on the floor, keeping my chest high, shoulders down and back, and head up, and walk myself back onto the bolster, adjusting as needed. My down knee is usually several inches from the floor and my quads are yelling “Are you nuts? We can’t do this!” They settle down after a while, and my knee sinks to the floor. Then I can relax. I stay there for five or ten minutes before switching legs.
To get up, keep your head back and lead with your chest, pushing up with your arms.
On Friday, Priscilla, Kate, Dana and I did, among other things, Trianga Mukhaikapda Paschimottanasana (three-part intense back stretch). I love the name of that pose. Once you get it, it has a wonderful rhythm. Triang=three, mukha=face, eka=one, pada=foot, paschima=west (not 100% sure about that part), uttana=intense, asana=pose.
The funny part was that Kate, Priscilla and I are flexibly impaired. We were all sitting straight up, because we can’t go forward. Dana wasn’t familiar with the pose, so she sat up too. After a minute I realized she didn’t know she should put her face down on her leg. OK, you had to be there. It was funny.
I began my morning practice today at about 7 am. I sat and centered myself, did some arm stretches and a couple of down dogs to get started. Then I went into Trikonasana (triangle). Because I was bent over to the side, I had a good view into the tree out my window. There was a big barred owl, still as could be, except for his head that swiveled around on his ball-bearing neck.
Fine. I did Trikonasana twice on each side. Was I paying full attention to my asana? No. I was watching the owl. At one point a junco came up close to the owl. He glared at the junco, who flitted away. (I don’t know if owls eat smaller birds. Maybe.)
I did two on each side of Parsvakonasana (extended side angle), still watching the owl. He was only about 30 feet from me.
Then I laid down on the mat to do Supta Padangusthasana (supine hand to big toe). I admit that I did this so I could keep watching the bird and doing yoga at the same time.
Suddenly three crows swooped down to the owl, chattering and harrassing him. The owl took off down the field to get away. He landed in a cedar halfway down the hedgerow. The crows followed, and were joined by another. The owl flew off again, and this time another crow joined the chase. The last I saw was the owl flapping away, followed by the five crows. Poor guy.
I finished my practice with Jathara Parivartanasana (reclining twist) and a long Savasana (corpse). What a strange Wild Kingdom practice.
It’s always challenging when your teacher goes to a workshop. Mary Obendorfer was at the YCL last weekend. I could only go to the pranayama classes on Saturday and Sunday mornings. I think my teacher Kim went to everything. Today’s class was spectacular and very hard. We loved it.
I have to confess that this week has been a bust as far as yoga practice is concerned. I did a teeny practice on Monday, went to class Wednesday, and then practiced with Dana at my house yesterday. Priscilla has been out of town, and Kate has been busy or sick.
We did hip openers and some chest openers. I’m having wrist, elbow, and shoulder trouble again, so I really need that chest opening. One of the excellent things about Supta Virasana (reclining hero, one of my do-it-all-the-time poses) is that it stretches the psoas and the upper chest at the same time. As we did it, we talked about the phenomenon of this pose making forward bends easier and stretchier afterwards. I tend to think of Supta Virasana as a quad stretch. I forget about the psoas, that great big muscle that runs along your spine and splits into two to attach to the inside of your hip.
If the psoas is tight, it prevents you from flexing your hips. Of course. This is one of those things I knew but not quite in such an illuminating way.
There’s a good article on the Yoga Journal website about psoas release, written by Liz Koch, author of The Psoas Book. See, I have that book. Why did I forget this information?
Dana, get ready. We’re going to do some of this stuff next Friday, lunges as usual as well as Eka Pada Rajakapotanasana (one legged king pigeon pose, for which I don’t have a thumbnail picture).
I went for a walk this morning, and then came home and did an hour of yoga before breakfast. In addition to my two bugaboo poses I’m practicing (almost) every day (Upavistha Konasana, seated wide-angle, and Supta Virasana, reclining hero), I generally do Trikonasana (triangle) and Uttitha Parsvakonasana (extended side angle). Yesterday I did as many other standing poses as I could think of, including the revolved versions. Those revolved versions are so hard for me that I rarely do them, which is all the more reason to do them. Today I didn’t have time for as much, but I’m going to try to do a variety of additional standing poses every day. Today I did Virabhadrasana II (warrior II), Parsvottanasana (intense side stretch), and Prasarita Padottanasana (wide angle forward bend).
And then later in the morning we watched our new president being sworn in. A very good day so far.
I’m going to have to write a post about obstacles to home practice at some point. I encountered several today – baking bread, taking down the Christmas tree, checking email, and so forth. So my practice time was abbreviated, which revealed a flaw in my stated YoMo intentions.
It’s no big deal to do one of my intended daily poses – Upavistha Konasana (seated wide angle) – apart from the struggle to stay upright. It goes better if I do some prep poses, but if I’m in a hurry I can just wedge it into the practice.
On the other hand, Supta Virasana requires, no, demands preparation from me. It’s such a hard pose for my inflexible hips and legs and back that I have to do Virasana at the very least, and a couple of lunges help a lot, and Parsvakonasana gets my hips stretched out, and so on. Then when I get into the pose I have to stay in it long enough for my knees to eventually drop to the ground, and at that point it’s silly to pop right out of it. So the pose itself takes as much as ten minutes, five on each side because I do it Eka Pada – one leg bent in front of me and one in Virasana – to protect my low back.
That doesn’t even count the time to haul out all my props.
In my capacity as YoMo cheerleader I can’t renege on my intentions, can I?
On the plus side, even after doing it for just four days, I can see a difference. Today I only needed one blanket on top of the bolster. I’m still using my large bolster, but I bet I’ll get down to the smaller one soon. This is a far cry from my early yoga classes, where I needed a pyramid of three bolsters and a lot of self-talk to get down into this pose.