Guest post by Chiara Ghiron
I expected Gregor to just touch on the seated asanas after what he had said at the beginning of the workshop, but we did half of the primary series instead. Not that I am complaining.
There was no time for questions in the morning; we started straight away with the sun salutations after the opening chant.
Tips and anatomical considerations were given along the way, stopping to explain in detail. But from the beginning Gregor insisted of the utmost importance of Baddha Konasana as a preparatory posture to open the hips and on the importance of Virasana, he said we should spend at least five minutes in Virasana each morning, sitting on a block or towel at the beginning, then gradually lowering our seat.
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- we should take a wider stance than we tend to, in order to truly lengthen the spine. An opposition of movements (heart towards the thumbs and coccyx towards the sky) is what we are looking for, also in line with the sutras teachings of balancing opposites.
I liked the 'heart towards the thumbs' advice, very effective for me, I finally felt really light in the asana, while I normally end up relatively tired if I hold it very long.
Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana
- Gregor encouraged us all to keep our hands lower in UMS. He said that the common habit to keep our hands under our shoulder is very dangerous in terms of long term lower back injuries.
We want to lead with our hearts also here, not with the shoulders or collapsing in the lower back. To keep the hands at the level of our belly is much better to encourage a correct posture, even if at the beginning it seems impossible to achieve.
- this asana has to be considered a preparation for back-bending, so we really need to open our hearts and have the hips level fully elongating the thigh muscles (foot at ca. 45 degree to allow this without knee strain), then bring our arms as further back as possible
Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana
- Gregor said that in the early days of practice this standing posture was not proposed until people could do the supta variation (on the floor) first. Practicing on the floor first is important to learn the movement of the leg. We should aim at the floor with the heel and not with the toes, to get an internal rotation of the femur in its socket.
- We need to really spread our toes to activate the arch of the standing leg foot otherwise knee injuries are more likely
Ardha Baddha Padma Uttanasana (or whatever that half lotus forward bend is called)
- He said that the correct order of movement is; bend your knee and touch the buttock with the heel (if you cannot do this, forget entering Padmasana); lift the bent knee up; rotate the femur bringing the foot to the inner thigh; bring the foot higher while keeping the heel in line with the navel; grab the foot from behind if you can. If you cannot grab your toe you should not bend.
- extend as much as possibly before coming with the hand on the floor/thumb/leg and keep the heel of the back foot in line with the front foot. Really this initial extension is the most important part because if we want to touch the floor at all costs and we come down with a twisted back, there is no way we can straighten up afterwards.
- the front foot should have a slight internal movement towards the back one, in order to ensure internal rotation of the front leg, which is important for alignment. The stance should be wide.
- the back foot should be rotated ca. 45 degrees in order to allow for the hips to be parallel to the short side of the mat without straining the knee
- because the hips are at 90 degree relative to where they were in Utthita Trikonasana, the stance should be ca. 25 cm shorter (more or less the average hip width)
- wide stance again, bend the front knee as much as possible, bring the hand on the floor then extend the arm, shoulders open with scapula sliding down the back, again find the opposites of extension and grounding and work on those.
- Start in a low lunge position and bring the hand fully to the floor by moving the shoulder as much over the knee as possibly. The hand should push down. Then try and strengthen the back leg. Then, but only if the hand is firmly pressing down, bring the back heel to the floor.
Prasarita Padottanasana variations
- make sure that the external side or the feet are parallel, engage the quadriceps, and do not overextend the knees. Lead with the heart.
- we were encouraged to sit as low as possible without loosing the opening of the heart. Otherwise we can forget building our cherished yoga butts ;-)
- be aware of the difference of the back foot position between Virabhadrasana and this variation, for the sake of the health of knee and hip alignment
In order to learn to jump back and forth we should do at least 15,000 enthusiastic vinyasas, with the enTHEUSiastic part well firm in our minds, God and devotion need to be present at all times in our practice.
Aside from this, we should practice Lolasana (Padmasana not necessary for this training exercise, just cross the legs) and be able to hold it for at least 10 breaths. Use as many blocks to help with lifting our hips at first, and then decrease their number gradually removing them. Then start to swing, like a pendulum with amplitude growing with time spent practicing. Ad then one day we will magically succeed.
- focus on releasing the head of the quadriceps that goes into the lower torso, and the abdominals, otherwise we will bulk up the belly and it will not be possible to extend/bend fully
- we should lead with our hearts, aiming at getting the heart towards the toes.
- don't rest the elbows on the floor.
- lifting the heels and hyperextending the knees is a sure and fast way to destroy the posterior cruciate ligament. Keep heels on the floor and activate the quadriceps (with the attentions described above)
- we should buy those physiotherapy resistance bands and train on developing the upper back muscles to fully extend the spine
- for the A variation, we should keep the knee at ca. 90 degrees, the foot somewhat extended (it does not matter if the toes end under the thigh), the shin on the floor with the knee extending away, the femur internally rotated (in both legs). It does not matter if the bent leg hip lifts off the floor a bit; we really need to work on the rotation as a priority
- for the B variation, the one with the leg in Virasana, we should aim at external rotation of the thigh after having moved the calf muscle away from it. (I seem to remember that in the Pranayama or Meditation book was warning against this though, as this movement could bring the knee out of alignment)
- for the variation where we sit on our heels the foot should be dorsiflexed with the toes pointing forward. External rotation of the femur here
- for the D variation we should prepare the leg by grabbing the foot moving the arm along the bent leg from the inside of the thigh to the outer side of the foot, pointing the heel towards the belly, pressing the ball of the foot with the heel perpendicular on the floor and bringing the knee to the floor with internal rotation of the femur. If we cannot keep the heel properly lifted, we should forget the rest of the asana and practice on the internal rotation of the femur with both hips lifted.
- start sitting higher up, on blocks or a folded blanked until we can be comfortable with an extended spine. He said we should do all of our office work in this position, the intervertebral disks just get squashed through the day and we need to make sure that the upper torso and the lower core muscles can support us fully, otherwise not only we will shrink but also get back problems
- it is super important to work on extending the quadriceps otherwise we will hurt our knees
- this is a really fundamental posture for all the hip openings (so Kino was right with her 50 breaths...). In Baddha Konasana we should open our feet soles and lift/suck the heels up and towards the belly, internally rotate the femurs and keep leading with our hearts. It is a double Janusirshasana A, it does not matter if the sit bones lift up a bit when we bend forward until we practice and practice and practice and the hips open and the sit bones will be on the floor again.
- we should only really try it if we can do a proper Baddha Konasana - a good test is if the can bend the knee and touch the sit-bone with the heel. If not, work on hip openers first.
- if we cannot do Baddha Padmasana, it is better to cross the legs bringing the shins parallel to each other, away from the hips with both feet on the floor and extend/lower the torso grabbing our elbows on the back, this is a fantastic hip opener
- you need to keep a 'short' neck here almost coming into your shoulders like a turtle
We did not have any formal session on the Yoga sutras or the Yama-Niyama limbs as Gregor said it takes four years of weekly classes to go through this stuff, so there is no point in just an overview. Fair enough.
He focussed on chakra meditation instead and pointed out several times that, unless we are super experienced or need to treat a specific serious problem, we should aim at activating and balancing all chakras, not just a chosen one.
We need to be fully functioning human beings, not just exacerbate and reinforce our existing tendencies.
Same as women always wanting to do backbends and men always wanting to do handstands while they really should to the opposite. I must be born in the wrong body/sex.
Gregor stressed again the difference between Buddhist meditation (very slow process just on awareness and breath) and Yoga meditation. He made the comparison of an Atari computer (vipassana) and a superprocessor (Yoga meditation).
He went again on the importance of Pranayama in balancing the nadis, since depending on the dominant nostril we will be more or less successful in the activities we start.
For example the right nostril should be open if we want to commit a crime, are a policeman wanting to arrest a criminal, give a public speech, study the Shastras, study a difficult scientific text, performing kriyas...
The left nostril should be open for conception, breastfeeding, counselling, listening to a friend, artistic activities, all other yogic activities.
By learning to regulate which nostril is predominant we can make sure that the activities we need to perform are successful (and to be honest after reading the Svara Yoga book I have started to notice that my right nostril is always more open whenever I feel it is a good time to study...).
It is better to lie on the left side than to drink a coffee, same effect. Lie on the right side if you want to fall asleep quickly etc etc.
Right nostril - sympathetic nervous system, catabolic
Left nostril - parasympathetic nervous system, anabolic
We have a dualistic mind, night and day, Ida and Pingala
Gregor mentioned the Shiva Svarodhaya Shastra, which has been translated into English (it is in the Svara Yoga book of the Bihar School of Yoga)
Every 90 minutes or so, on average, the dominant nostril changes. There are a few minutes where no nostril is dominant, both hemispheres are suspended (we feel a bit weird) the central nadi is active and prana enters it. This time is what Yogis want to elongate.
Time is the operating system of the mind, Gregor said, and mentioned an Indian analogy of the consciousness as a river: like a river is simultaneously at the source, rapids and estuary, so our consciousness if simultaneously at our birth, life and death.
Then Gregor gave us a Sushumna breathing exercise for 5 minutes: visualise a thin red thread going alongside the spine from the sacrum to the crown of the head while internally reciting the So (inhale) Ham (exhale) mantra
In meditation we need to turn Apana Vayu up, so it is not a good idea to meditate after lunch, because Apana will all be busy with digestion.
Gregor mentioned that the quickest way to get into a mystical experience is to fast. But this has to be done in a scientific way, accompanied by internal cleansing as well.
The peristalsis needs to be switched off completely, which happens after 4-5 days of fasting, the body goes into semi-starvation mode (not compatible with an intense asana practice). Vitamins and minerals need to be provided throughout this time though. Then studies have shown that semi-starvation is capable of extending lifespan (my note: it is true that caloric restriction has beneficial effects but this has not been proven extensively in humans except for alternate day fasting as far as I have checked with scientific literature so far)
Chakras represent various types of brain circuitry; there are several of them.
They have location, sense, shapes and colours associated, which have all been described in the Shastras. We should reject all the new age-y rainbow garbage when the colours described in the Yoga texts are explored, validated and very precisely indicated (see the cover of his Meditation book which reports the exact colours).
It is very important for meditation that we visualise the lotuses associated to the different chakras with their petals UP if we want to use visualisation as an aid to awaken and raise Kundalini.
He went though the most important chakras and for each we did a 5-minute meditation, beginning and ending by chanting OM.
- Mooladhara chakra (at the coccyx, tamasic in nature) which represents the reptilian brain, concerned with survival. If this chakra is closed the ability to care for others is impaired. Self-destructive behaviour, adrenaline junkies, heroin addicts are signs of a closed Mooladhara chakra. Very easy to revert to this chakra.
Mantra LAM. Exercise: mentally recite LAM n times during inhale and n times during exhale while focussing on the coccyx.
- Svadhishthana chakra (at the sacrum) represents the mammalian brain, encourages life in society, being a team player, procreate, raise and defend your family and kids, defending our territory, etc. It is connected to the limbic brain, being together and channelling emotions, being there for others. Very important in military life to be able to obey orders, exploited by third chakra people. If the second chakra is blocked, people may have an excessive sexual urge, and also be infertile. This chakra needs to be fully activated to live a full family life. He mentioned the example of a family of meth cookers who were also prostituting their child daughter while running porn videos as an example of second chakra closed.
Mantra: VAM. Exercise: mentally recite LAM n/2 and VAM n/2 times during inhale and then VAM for n/2 times followed by LAM for n/2 times during exhale while focussing on the coccyx-sacrum (inhale) then sacrum-coccyx (exhale).
- Third chakra, Manipura (rajasic, element fire) at the navel (behind it) represents the primate brain. Assimilation and acquisition of food, territory, wealth, power, responsibility towards society.
A blockage may result in a problem with asserting oneself, captivating people. Leaders will have an open Manipura chakra but need an open heart chakra as well to be good ones.
People with a strong third chakra do not concern themselves with what others think of them and tend to be extrovert. The different societies described by Marx in Das Kapital reflect the lower three chakras, while he could not envisage a fourth chakra society.
Mantra RAM. Exercise: mentally recite LAM n/3, VAM n/3 times, RAM n/3 times during inhale and then RAM n/3 times, VAM n/3 times followed by LAM n/3 times during exhale while focussing on the coccyx-sacrum-navel (inhale) then navel-sacrum-coccyx (exhale).
- Fourth chakra: Anahata at the heart (unstruck sound, because all sounds and the OM sound resonate here) represents the human being brain circuitry. Compassion, unconditional love, forgiveness, Jesus Christ had an open Anahata chakra. It is what makes us humane.
Traditionally a feminine chakra, men tend not to access it. But a woman with a closed Manipura chakra and open Anahata will become subservient, so again a good balance of all chakras is important.
It gives a feeling of trust in the divine, whatever this means for us (95% of the people feel that there is something greater than us, he said atheists typically have a closed Anahata chakra).
It may take the loss of a loved one, grief, to open the fourth chakra. This is because grief crushes our ego and opens our eyes to the fact that there is something other than us out there, allows to experience transcendence and the oceanic feel of belonging to something larger than us. So he was very critical of modern society trying to suppress grief with drugs at all costs.
Mantra: YAM, sense: touch (hugging is an expression of Anahata chakra), element: air.
Exercise analogously to previous ones, adding the repetition of YAM focussing on the heart for a time n/4 the length of our inhale and exhale, moving up and down respectively with the focus on each chakra
- Fifth chakra Vishuddha at the base of the throat. Mantra HAM, element: space. Through this chakra we can understand divine law and how it expresses itself in the creation and the laws that regulate the cosmos. E = mc2 for example. If this chakra is open we can 'download' this information. It is the chakra of geniuses, Einstein, Newton, Tesla, Beethoven, ...
But it is very important that the lower chakras are open otherwise we will not be able to create a supportive environment for ourselves (see Van Gogh for example). Autism can be seen as an imbalance of 1-5-6 open chakras, 2-3-4 closed chakras. Take LSD with closed lower chakras and you may develop psychosis.
If we could collectively open this chakra, the world would be a much better one.
Exercises, as before adding this one to the focussed breathing cycle.
- Sixth chakra Ajna, mantra OM, located at the centre of the cranium, at the third ventricle, in the cave of Brahman according to Yoga anatomy-physiology. Element: intelligence.
When prana enters this chakra we have direct experience of the divine.
Exercise, analogously as previous ones, moving up and down to and from this chakra.
- The seventh chakra, Sahasrara, cannot be accessed through the breathing cycles, but we get there through the kumbhakas.
* Continued tomorrow with nauli kriya and led class