Vishamanyasa: The Opposite of Vinyasa

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As I’ve been referring to the concept of “vishamanyasa” so much recently, I thought I’d give you a quotation from “Astadala Yogamala” Volume 2 by B. K. S. Iyengar, where he expounds on the concept:

“The opposite of vinyasa is called vishamanyasa. Vishamanyasa means placing in an odd or irregular manner. Certainly it is not done in a disorderly way. Rather it is a method of challenge. In this method, asana from different categories are linked together without breaking the flow of the movements. For instance, Eka Pada Shirshasana and the variations in an asana are Grathana Sthiti (body knotting). This category works as follows: Eka Pada Shirshasana from sitting (Upavishtha Sthiti), Skandasana (forward extension or Pashchima Pratana Sthiti), Bhairavasana (supine or Supta Sthiti), Kala Bhairavasana or Chakorasana (arm-balance or Bhujatolasana Sthiti), Durvasana (Standing--Uttishtha Sthiti), Richikasana (Uttishtha Pashchima Pratana Sthiti) and so on.

“A mixed group of asana is also known as vishamanyasa. For instance, Tadasana, Uttanasana, Adho Mukha Shvanasana, Paripurna Navasana, Utkatasana, Ushtrasana, Kapotasana, Adho Mukha Virasana and so on. Because of a flexible body, children enjoy practising [sic] this way since the changes are challenging ones. My guru used to ask me to do any asana in this way. He would ask me to do Salamba Shirshasana and suddenly jump over to Natarajasana.

“Vinyasa and vishamanyasa is [sic] again classified as viloma, anuloma and pratiloma. Viloma vinyasa means linking with regular interruption. In viloma vinyasa, asana belonging to the same classification are linked each time with one single chosen asana such as Janu Shirshasana-Pashchimottanasana, Triang Mukhaikapda Pashchimottanasana-Pashchimottanasana, Ardha Baddha Padma Pashchimottanasana-Pashchimottanasana, Upavishtha Konasana-Pashchimottanasana, and so forth.”

“In viloma vishamanyasa, the asana forming separate or opposite classifications are linked with one single chosen asana. That means practicing one froward extension and one backward extension (Pashchima Pratana Sthiti and Purva Pratana Sthiti) such as Pashchimottanasana-Urdhva Dhanurasana, Pashchimottanasana-Ushtrasana, Pashchimottanasana-Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana.”

The Ashtadala Yogamala series is a collection of miscellaneous talks and articles by Mr. Iyengar that have been compiled and organized into several volumes and organized by subject matter. They are published in India, but can be found at specialist bookstores, such as the Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco.


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Mula Bandha

In Iyengar, the bandhas (energy locks in the body) are considered an advanced practice only to be used as part of advanced pranayamas. Here's an interesting article over at AshtangaNews.com by Ruth Jones, an Ashtanga Vinyasa practitioner (in which Mula Bandha, the root lock, is used consistently throughout the practice) and PhD candidate who is conducting a study on contraction of the pelvic floor muscles.
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Intermediate/Advanced Class with Donald Moyer 1/4/08

I was in Berkeley last week, taking class with Donald Moyer at the Yoga Room. Here's what I learned:

Ideas


1. Pubic Bone and Thighs

Even though the two pubic bones are fused to the fibrous pad of the pubic symphysis by adulthood, there is still a certain amount of movement possible in the joint. Working with that movement can help to create strength around the pubic symphysis and space around the hip joint.

In asymmetrical standing poses, the pubic bone can drop forward and down, limiting the range of motion of the out-turned leg. Thus in, say Utthita Trikonasana to the right, lift and turn the right side of the pubic bone off the inner thigh, while turning the left pubic bone down into the thigh. The working of the two sides of the pubic bone against each other will create strength around the pubic symphysis.

In symmetrical poses, create space around the hip joint by lifting the pubic bones (left and right) off the tops of the thighs. Stack the pubic bone up, moving forward and lifting off ankle bones creating a resist so as not to collapse into the hip and hamstring. If there is an imbalance between the two sides of the pelvis (one iliac crest shifted up or titled back relative to the other) make sure both are evenly lifted. This means that the higher one will have to be rolled down, the lower one rolled up.

Some people might tend to overly inward rotate, some to overly outward rotate in symmetrical poses (standing, seated and forward extensions). People who overly inwardly rotate might benefit from turning the pubic bones towards the abdomen in their poses (lifting), whereas people who do not inwardly rotate enough might benefit from turning the pubic bones towards the thighs (turning them down).

In Baddha Konasana-like asymmetrical seated forward bends—such as Janu Shirshasana—lift the pubic bone off the thigh of the straight leg while broadening the other side out towards the thigh of the bent leg.

In Virasana-like asymmetrical seated forward bends—such as Krounchasana—do the opposite. Broaden the pubic bone away from the straight leg and lift it off the bent leg.

Bear in mind that we want to keep the pubic bone/pubic symphysis approximately parallel to the floor. You might find that on one side the pelvis lists laterally and the pubic bone collapses sideways into the femur. In that case, emphasize the broadening of the bent leg side pubic bone over the lift of the straight leg pubic bone (in the case of Baddha Konasana-like poses, the reverse in the case of Virasana-like poses) to bring the pelvis back into balance.

2. Strength of the Pubic Symphysis

We want to use the pubic bone/pubic symphysis as a place to find the strength of the front line of the body). If the student is stiff in that region (a tucker), the symphysis is set back and narrow, the hip creases tight. Bring the symphysis forward and strengthen it by broadening both it and the hip creases. If the student is overly flexible there (a tilter), the symphysis will be in front of the plane of the body and needs to be brought back into line and firmed to find strength.

Once the symphysis is in the plane of the front line, then stretch the legs/arms/trunk away from it to strengthen the entire line.

3. Femurs and Hip Sockets

In symmetrical poses create room in the pelvic region by broadening the femur heads away from each other. This will help to broaden the sacrum and gluteal wall.

In asymmetrical poses, line the weight-bearing femur head in the hip socket and broaden the other away from it.

4. Lower Abdominal Wall and Face of Sacrum

Instead of gripping the lower abdomen, create depth between the lower abdominal wall and the face of the sacrum. Balance the weight between these two walls.

5. Rhomboid Wall and Armpits

Broaden and strengthen the rhomboid wall.

Stretching evenly from inner and outer armpit.

In Shirshasana: lengthen the inner armpit up off the inner elbow; lengthen the outer armpit down into the inner elbow.

6. Heads and Sockets

Turn the shoulder sockets around humerus head and the acetabulum around the femur head.

Turning inner clavicles either toward or away from head. (Comparable to pubic bones?)

7. Collarbones and Sternal Notch

In forward bends, deepen the sternal notch into the body and turn the inner collarbones away from the head.

In poses involving arm strength, bring the sternal notch to the surface and turn it away from the arms.

Sequence


Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana 2 (foot on ledge)
(Instructions for right side)
• Lift right pubic bone off thigh and turn it back.
• Roll left pubic bone forward and down.
• Line up left femur head into socket, move right femur head away from left.

Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana 1 (foot on ledge)
(Instructions for right side)
• Raise arms over head.
• Lift right pubic bone off thigh and turn it back.
• Roll left pubic bone forward and down.
• Exhale and fold forward.
• Line up left femur head into socket, move right femur head away from left.

Parivrtta Hasta Padangusthasana (foot on ledge)
(Instructions for right side)
• Lift right pubic bone off thigh and turn it back.
• Roll left pubic bone forward and down.
• Line up left femur head into socket, move right femur head away from left.
• Broaden and expand rhomboid wall.

Adho Mukha Shvanasana
• If there is an imbalance, divide the pubic bones to create balance.
• Lift pubic bones off thighs.
• Stretch evenly from the inner and outer armpits.

Tadasana
• Lift pubic bones off thighs.

Utthita Trikonasana
(Instructions for right side)
• Line left pubic bone up with right ankle bone.
• Lift right pubic bone off thigh and turn it out to allow femur to turn in socket.
• Turn left pubic bone down and in towards left thigh.

Padangusthasana/Uttanasana
• Coming into pose, lift the pubic bone vertically up off the thighs so as not to sink back.
• If there is an imbalance in the pelvis, divide the pubic bones.
• In Uttanasana, turn the collarbones away from the head and broaden the rhomboid wall.

Utthita Parshvakonasana
(Instructions for right side)
• Line left pubic bone up with right ankle bone.
• Lift right pubic bone off thigh and turn it out to allow femur to turn in socket.
• Turn left pubic bone down and in towards left thigh.
• Broaden the rhomboid wall.

Prasarita Padottanasana 1
(Arms extended forward, then classic pose)
• If there is an imbalance in the pelvis, divide the pubic bones.
• Stack the pubic symphysis up over the inner thighs, move it forward into the front plane of the body and stretch the arms forward from it.
• Turn the collarbones away from the head and broaden the rhomboid wall into the elbows.

Ardha Chandrasana
(Instructions for right side)
• Set the hip socket directly over the femur head and lift it.
• Lift right pubic bone off thigh and turn it out to allow femur to turn in socket.
• Turn left pubic bone down and in towards left thigh.
• Move the pubic symphysis forward, strengthen it and stretch the left leg away from it.
• Broaden the rhomboid wall.

Uttanasana
• Coming into pose, lift the pubic bone vertically up off the thighs so as not to sink back.
• If there is an imbalance in the pelvis, divide the pubic bones.
• Turn the collarbones away from the head and broaden the rhomboid wall.

Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana
(Instructions for right side)
• Set the hip socket directly over the femur head and lift it.
• Lift right pubic bone off thigh and turn it out to allow femur to turn in socket.
• Turn left pubic bone down and in towards left thigh.
• Move the pubic symphysis forward, strengthen it and stretch the left leg away from it.
• Broaden the rhomboid wall.

Uttanasana
• Coming into pose, lift the pubic bone vertically up off the thighs so as not to sink back.
• If there is an imbalance in the pelvis, divide the pubic bones.
• Turn the collarbones away from the head and broaden the rhomboid wall.

Parshvottanasana
(Instructions for right side)
• Line left pubic bone up with right ankle bone.
• Lift right pubic bone off thigh and turn it out to allow femur to turn in socket.
• Turn left pubic bone down and in towards left thigh.
• Broaden the rhomboid wall.

Adho Mukha Shvanasana
• Move the pubic symphysis into the front plane of the body.
• Balance the lift of the pubic bones up off the inner thighs.
• Broaden the rhomboid wall and balance the stretch of the inner and outer armpits.

Shirshasana 1
• Lift the pubic bones into the thighs and the thighs up off the pubic bones.
• Broaden the rhomboid wall.
• Stretch from the outer elbow towards the outer armpit to the ceiling.
• Stretch from the inner armpit down into the inner elbow.
• Move the sternal notch towards the front body.

Adho Mukha Shvanasana
• Move the pubic symphysis into the front plane of the body.
• Balance the lift of the pubic bones up off the inner thighs.
• Broaden the rhomboid wall and balance the stretch of the inner and outer armpits.

Halasana
• Lengthen the outer triceps towards the elbow and lift the inner triceps towards the ceiling.
• Turn the shoulder socket around the head of the upper arm.
• Deepen the sternal notch further into the body and turn the collarbones towards the head.
Sarvangasana
• Lift the thighs up off the pubic bones and the pubic bones up towards the thighs.
• Strengthen the pubic symphysis and stretch the legs up from them.
Eka Pada Sarvangasana
(Instructions for right side)
• Turn the left pubic bone up towards the left thigh.
• Turn the right pubic bone down away from the right thigh.
• Place the right foot on the floor to give you more of a push up through both legs.
Parshvaikapada Sarvangasana
(Instructions for right side)
• Turn the left pubic bone up towards the left thigh.
• Turn the right pubic bone down away from the right thigh.
• Place the right foot on the floor to give you more of a push up through both legs.
Halasana
• Turn the pubic bones either towards the thighs (if the thighs do not turn in enough) or away from the thighs (if the thighs turn in too much).

Janu Shirshasana
(Instructions for right side)
• Lift the right pubic bone up off the right thigh and turn the left pubic bone out towards the bent leg.
• Strengthen the pubic symphysis and stretch the right leg forward out of it.
• Broaden and strengthen the rhomboid wall.
• Deepen the sternal notch further into the body.
• Turn the collarbones away from the head.

Ardha Baddha Padma Pashchimottanasana
(Instructions for right side)
• Lift the right pubic bone up off the right thigh and turn the left pubic bone out towards the bent leg.
• Strengthen the pubic symphysis and stretch the right leg forward out of it.
• Broaden and strengthen the rhomboid wall.
• Deepen the sternal notch further into the body.
• Turn the collarbones away from the head.

Parivrtta Krounchasana
(Instructions for right side)
• Balance the weight between the abdominal wall and the face of the sacrum.
• Turn the right pubic bone away from the right thighs and lift the left pubic bone up off the left thigh.
• Broaden and turn from the rhomboid wall.

Krounchasana
(Instructions for right side)
• Balance the weight between the abdominal wall and the face of the sacrum.
• Soften the lower abdomen.
• Cup the right hip socket up under the femur head to support the leg.
• Turn the right pubic bone away from the right thigh and lift the left pubic bone up off the left thigh.
• Broaden the rhomboid wall.
• Deepen the sternal notch into the body and turn the collarbones away from the head.

Triang Mukhaikapada Pashchimottanasana
(Instructions for right side)
• Turn the right pubic bone away from the right thigh and lift the left pubic bone up off the left thigh.
• Broaden the rhomboid wall.
• Deepen the sternal notch into the body and turn the collarbones away from the head.

Pashchimottanasana
• Lift the pubic bones off the thighs, balancing the lift if there is an imbalance.
• Turn the pubic bones up if the thighs turn in too much, turn them down if they need to turn in more to facilitate the pose.
• Strengthen the pubic symphysis and stretch the legs forward.
• Broaden the rhomboid wall.
• Deepen the sternal notch into the body and turn the collarbones away from the head.

Marichyasana 1
(Instructions for right side)
• Turn the right pubic bone away from the right thigh and lift the left pubic bone up off the left thigh.
• Strengthen the pubic symphysis by either moving it deeper into the body or towards the surface of the body. Experiment, as this action may be different in this pose.
• Broaden the rhomboid wall.
• Deepen the sternal notch into the body and turn the collarbones away from the head.

Upavishtha Konasana
• Lift the pubic bones off the thighs, balancing the lift if there is an imbalance.
• Turn the pubic bones up if the thighs turn in too much, turn them down if they need to turn in more to facilitate the pose.
• Strengthen the pubic symphysis and stretch the legs forward.
• Broaden the rhomboid wall.
• Deepen the sternal notch into the body and turn the collarbones away from the head.

Parivrtta Janu Shirshasana
(Instructions for right side)
• Keep the pubic symphysis in the front plane of the body. Do not let it push to far forward or collapse too far back.
• Lift the right pubic bone up of the right thigh, turn the left pubic bone out and down towards the left thigh.
• Broaden the rhomboid wall and turn from the right side of the body (the side closest to the ground).

Child’s Pose

Shavasana

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Marichyasana 5 (or E)

Another new addition to the Forward Extensions section of the site:

Marichi's Pose E
Level: Intermediate

Marichi = one of the sons of Brahma, the creator.

This pose is also known as Marichyasana E in the Ashtanga Vinyasa system.

Organizing the pose

• From Dandasana (Staff Pose) draw the right leg back as if for Triang Mukhaikapada Pashchimottanasana (Three Limbs Facing Intense West Stretch Pose).
• Draw the left leg back, as for Marichyasana 1 (Marichi's Pose 1). Sit up on blankets or a block if necessary.
• Inhale and reach the left arm up, extending through the left side.
• Exhale, fold forward and wrap the left arm around the left shin and the right arm behind you. Clasp the left wrist in the right hand. Hold onto a belt if the hands do not reach.
• Inhale, draw the wrists down towards the floor and lift the sides of the trunk.
• Exhale and lengthen the trunk out over the right leg, bringing the chin towards the knee.
• Hold this position.
• Inhale and lift up out of the pose.
• Exhale and return to Dandasana (Staff Pose).
• Repeat on the second side.

Practice Points

• Draw both inner thighs deeper into the body.
• Soften and broaden the hip creases.
• Soften the lower abdomen and move it deeper into the body. Lengthen the upper abdomen forward.
• Move the inner face of the sacrum back away from the pubic bone and soften the buttocks.
• Turn the pubic bone towards the raised knee and the navel back towards the mid-line of the body.
• Turn the sternum towards the pubic bone.


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Marichyasana 2 (or B)

Another new addition to the Forward Extensions section of the site:

Marichi's Pose B
Level: Advanced

Marichi = one of the sons of Brahma, the creator.

This pose is also known as Marichyasana B in the Ashtanga Vinyasa system.

Organizing the pose

• From Dandasana (Staff Pose) draw the right leg back into Ardha Padmasana (Half Lotus Pose).
• Draw the left leg back, as for Marichyasana 1 (Marichi's Pose 1). Sit up on blankets if necessary.
• Inhale and reach the left arm up, extending through the left side.
• Exhale, fold forward and wrap the left arm around the left shin and the right arm behind you. Clasp the left wrist in the right hand. Hold onto a belt if the hands do not reach.
• Inhale, draw the wrists down towards the floor and lift the sides of the trunk.
• Exhale and lengthen the trunk out over the right leg, bringing the chin towards the knee.
• Hold this position.
• Inhale and lift up out of the pose.
• Exhale and return to Dandasana (Staff Pose).
• Repeat on the second side.

Practice Points

• Draw both inner thighs deeper into the body.
• Soften and broaden the hip creases.
• Soften the lower abdomen and move it deeper into the body. Lengthen the upper abdomen forward.
• Move the inner face of the sacrum back away from the pubic bone and soften the buttocks.
• Turn the pubic bone towards the raised knee and the navel back towards the mid-line of the body.
• Turn the sternum towards the pubic bone.
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Marichyasana 1 (or A)

Here is a new addition to the Forward Extensions section of the site.

Marichi's Pose A
Level: Intermediate

Marichi = one of the sons of Brahma, the creator.

This pose is also known as Marichyasana A in the Ashtanga Vinyasa system.

Organizing the pose

• Sit in Dandasana (Staff Pose), elevating the pelvis on blankets to help you extend forward if necessary.
• Take hold of the back of the left thigh and draw the knee in, keeping the muscles of the left leg as soft as possible.
• Plant the left foot flat on the floor with the heel in line with the sitting bone.
• Inhale and reach the left arm up, extending through the left side.
• Exhale, reach the left arm forward to take hold of the inside of the right foot.
• Inhale and lengthen out through the left side.
• Exhale, roll the trunk to the right, away from the left thigh.
• Bring the left arm around the left shin and the right arm behind you. Clasp the left wrist in the right hand. Hold onto a belt if the hands do not reach.
• Inhale, draw the wrists down towards the floor and lift the sides of the trunk.
• Exhale and roll the trunk to the right once again. Turn the head to look at the left knee.
• Inhale open the trunk to the right once again.
• Exhale and lengthen the trunk out over the right leg, bringing the chin towards the shin. Allow the left sitting bone to lift up off the floor as you lean forward.
• Hold this position.
• Inhale and lift up out of the pose.
• Exhale and return to Dandasana (Staff Pose).
• Repeat on the second side.

Practice Points

• Draw both inner thighs deeper into the body.
• Spread the back of the knee of the straight leg and anchor the outer knee ligament down into the ground.
• Soften and broaden the hip creases.
• Soften the lower abdomen and move it deeper into the body. Lengthen the upper abdomen forward.
• Balance the weight between the heel of the bent leg and the sitting bone of the straight leg.
• Turn the pubic bone towards the bent knee, the navel toward the straight knee.
• Turn the sternum towards the pubic bone.
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Janu Shirshasana (Head of the Knee Pose)

Here's another new addition to the Forward Extensions category:

Head of the Knee Pose, Head to Knee Pose Read More...
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Adho Mukha Padmasana

Here's another new addition to the Forward Extensions category:

AMPadmas Read More...
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Ardha Baddha Padma Pashchimottanasana

Here's a new addition to the Forward Extensions category:

Half Bound Lotus Intense West Stretch Pose Read More...
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Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana

Here's a new addition, a very challenging pose, to the Standing Poses category:

Revolved Half MoonPose Read More...
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Sequencing

My first Iyengar teacher was extremely creative and unconventional in her approach to sequencing. She has a poetic way of sequencing that is both logical and intuitive, but she very much does not toe the line in terms of the way she sequences a class (bless her), so I never really got the hang of the classic Iyengar sequencing at that stage. Unfortunately, a subsequent disastrous and inadequate teacher training did very little to fill that gap. I have, of late, been studying with Donald Moyer in Berkeley, as regular readers will know. Donald is also extremely innovative and creative, while remaining intuitive and logical in his approach, but in some ways he is very old school when it comes to his sequencing. I've been teaching and practicing in his manner quite a lot lately, and it has been a wonderful exercise in getting inside the classical Iyengar mentality. Sometimes the method gets accused of being dry and repetitive, but there is an elegance to the sequencing. I offer you here my limited understanding of the form.

Here follows a breakdown of the major pose categories and where they fit in the scheme. This first chart is not an actual way of practicing. Think of it as a diagram of a hypothetical sequence including all the different possibilities:

Sequencing1

This would break down into the following practice sequences for each of the four major categories. Obviously there are other types of poses -- arm balances, abdominals and such. Each of these has their own rationale, but think about how you are practicing them. How do they relate to standing poses, to twists, back bends or forward bends? This might give you an idea of where a pose such as Parshva Bakasana (Side Crow Pose) might go.

Sequencing2


Sequencing3


Sequencing4


Sequencing5

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Basics for Everyone: Lift the Thighs

Importance of the theme


In any pose we want to begin by organizing the base. As the quadriceps are the largest muscle group in the legs, it makes sense to devote a fair amount of attention to them, especially at the beginning.

When the legs are straight in standing poses, such as Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose) or Parshvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch Pose), or in forward extensions such as Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose) and Upavishtha Konasana (Seated Angle Pose), activating the quadriceps will stabilize and energize the legs. In such cases, engaging the quadriceps causes the end of the muscle, at the knee, to draw up towards the hip. Given that the idea in yoga is always to be creating space in the body, we do not generally want to be thinking in terms of words like “grip,” “contract” or “tighten.” Better to think of lengthening in the direction of action. In this case, think of lifting up out of the base towards the heavens, hence the idea of lifting the quadriceps.

Key Poses


Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose)

Blog-01

Parshvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch Pose)

Blog-02

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)

Blog-03

Upavishtha Konasana (Seated Angle Pose)

Blog-04

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Bunions and Hammer Toes

Here’s another nugget of information from Donald Moyer, author of "Yoga: Awakening the Inner Body."

Bunions


With bunions, the big toe turns out and up, pressing against the other toes. The end of the first metatarsal becomes pronounced and a lot of pressure ends up being placed on the big toe mound as it is required to make up for the now-ineffective big toe. It becomes necessary to strengthen either side of the big toes, both the neck of the toe and the front base of the arch. Try these two approaches to strengthen and bring balance to the foot.

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)


AMSV
1. Come into the pose and lift the heels to bring the weight into the neck of the big toe.

2. Turn the heels out to make the big toes point forward.

3. Ground down and strengthen the neck of the big toe (the part between the big toe mound and the pad under the toenail).

4. Without losing the strength and alignment of the big toes, slowly draw the heels back towards parallel. At first you might not be able to bring them back into alignment.

5. Strengthen the ends of the arches, especially the end closest to the big toe mound.


Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose)


UTT
1. Come into Uttanasana with a slant board under the toes.

2. Draw the big toes into alignment with the fingers while pressing the thumbs into the base of the arch behind the mound.


Hammer Toes


With hammer toes, the underside of the digits retracts back towards the heel, curling the toes. This can be worked on in Uttanasana by softening the top of the foot and strengthening from underneath.

Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose)


1. Come into the pose with a slant board under the toes.

2. Work on each toe either individually or together, bu pressing the neck of the toe down with the fingers and grounding the underside into the slant board.

3. Continue grounding as you first reduce the effort of the the fingers and then remove them completely.

4. Broaden the sole of the foot from the Big Toe to the 4th toe.
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Actions of the Feet

The very wonderful teacher Donald Moyer, author of "Yoga: Awakening the Inner Body," came to share some of his ideas in a workshop at Yogasana Center in Brooklyn a few weeks ago. It was an intense three days of practice and observation that has left me with much to ponder. I thought I would share with you some of his ideas from this year and years past. There was a LOT of information, so I’m going to have to break it down. Here is some information about the feet:

1. Broaden the toes and metatarsals from underneath.


feetspread2_1

We often work very hard from the tops of the feet, causing the muscles to harden and pop up, creating a deep groove across the top of the feet. Better to work the feet from underneath so that the top of the foot and the ankle can remain soft.

feetspread1

So as not to over work the little toe and sap the strength of the outer foot, think of broadening across a line spreading out from the big toe mound to the fourth toe.


2. Roll the metatarsals.


metatarsals1

To broaden the body of the foot, and to bring weight into the inner foot where the bones have evolved to support it, think of rolling each of the first four metatarsals inwards along its axis while turning the fifth metatarsal, connected to the little toe, outwards, spreading the bones like a fan.

metatarsal1and5

Interestingly enough, B. K. S. Iyengar has apparently been teaching a similar idea, only turning the fifth metatarsal inwards along with the rest.

metatasalsallin


3. Stretch the neck of the big toe forward as you draw the inner foot (1st metatarsal) back and the outer foot (5th metatarsal) forward.



metatarsals1and5turn

These actions together strengthen and support the ankle, and become the base of a wrapping motion in the leg that can translate all the way up into the hip and lower abdomen creating strength, stability and release. Stretching the big toe forward stabilizes and anchors the movement of the metatarsals so that the foot does not turn in.

If the feet are naturally very wide, the outer foot can lose strength. Rolling the outer foot/5th metatarsal forward can contain the spread, sharpen the outer edge of the foot and bring the lost strength back.

I have found that if you have a tendency to press into and over work the inner knee this combination of actions can aggravate this. Narrowing the inner thigh by bringing the hamstring forward (coupled with taking the inner quadriceps back to stabilize) can balance this out. Look for for more information on this in an upcoming post.


4. Ground the neck of big toe.



ground-thru-neck-of-bt

Sometimes we over work the big toe mound. Instead of pressing down hard into the big toe mound, soften the action by grounding the neck of the big toe itself. This can be experienced most effectively in Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose) by lifting the heels, or in Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose) by putting a slant board under the toes.

AMSVAMSVneck2

UTT UTTneck


5. Firm the ends of the arches.


It is possible to over lift the arch and throw the ankle off balance. Activate the arch instead by strengthening either end, just behind the big toe mound and just before the inner heel.

foot(arch)


If you are not sure how to achieve this, press the fingers into these point to bring awareness there while in Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose).

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Parts of the Feet and Ankles

Even if you are familiar with anatomical terms, you may hear some things referred to by strange names in a yoga class. Here's a little run-through of the different parts of the feet as found in Iyengar Yoga.

The Sole of the Foot



PoFeet1
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Surya Namaskar: The Sun Salutation

Level: All levels

One of the main things that seems to draw people to this site is information about the Sun Salutation, so I thought I would provide here a printable download of four variations of this sequence. Included also are four mp3's talking you through each of the sequences.

The Sun Salutation, or Surya Namaskar, is central to many systems of Hatha Yoga. A flowing sequence of postures linked by the breath, it is an elaborate form of calisthenics that can tone and strengthen the body and warm it up in preparation for other poses. Some systems of yoga, such as the various Vinyasa forms, place great emphasis on the sun salute, either in whole or in part, to link different categories of pose to each other, whereas in other systems, such as the Iyengar method, it is used only occasionally, either to stir up the energy of a flagging class or as a preparation for poses that require upper body strength, such as inversions.

(Click here for a fully illustrated, printable PDF of this article.)


Approach with Caution

It is extremely easy to get carried away with the sun salutation. Moving quickly from pose to pose often means sacrificing attention to detail. Sometimes the idea is presented that as long as you are present and breathing properly, you cannot injure yourself. I would dispute this notion strongly. The major difficulty with the repetitious nature of the sequence is a dulling of awareness and a falling into habit. Better to move slowly and deliberately as you make the complicated transitions from pose to pose, staying mindful and engaged with your body at all times. Be especially careful at the beginning of the practice, when the body is not fully warmed up and the mind not quite awakened to the body’s needs. Step forward and back whenever necessary, especially if the shoulders or back become challenged.


Modify as Necessary

Apply the knowledge of your own body you have acquired in class learning other poses to the sequence.

If the back is tight or sore, or the hamstrings are tight, do Tadasana (Mountain Pose) and Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose) with the feet hip width apart. Go forward from on to the other with the hands on the hips and bend the legs slightly.

If there is any problem with the shoulders, avoid Chaturanga Dandasana (Four Limbed Staff Pose) completely and substitute Plank Pose. If the wrists or back are tight, Plank Pose might work as a substitute for Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana (Upward Facing Dog Pose) as well.

If in doubt, never feel you have to begin with the Sun Salutation. Perhaps beginning with a softer, or even restorative, pose would be more appropriate.

That said, Surya Namaskar is a fun and energizing sequence worth practicing whenever a burst of energy is needed.

(Click here for a fully illustrated, printable PDF of this article.)


Simple Sun Salutation 1
Lunge back
Level: Fundamentals

(Click here for audio instruction guiding you through this sequence.)


Simple Sun Salutation 2
Jump back
Level: Fundamentals

(Click here for audio instruction guiding you through this sequence.)


"Light on Yoga" Sun Salutation
Level: Intermediate/Advanced


(Click here for audio instruction guiding you through this sequence.)


Ashtanga Vinyasa Sun Salutation (A)
Level: Intermediate/Advanced


(Click here for audio instruction guiding you through this sequence.)

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Practice Point: The Hands #1

This information is partly derived from classes taught by Donald Moyer at the Yoga Room in Berkeley, CA, in January of 2006.

The Beginner's Hand

In the beginning, there is often very little awareness in the hand or palm. When the student comes into a pose such as Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog), the fingers and palms are not particularly active and the weight falls into the wrist and outer hand, with knock-on effects higher up in the shoulder and chest. In the long run, this can be problematic for the wrist, as the weight of the body just sits there in the joint with no support to rebounce it back up into the core.

So the first instruction given is usually:

"Spread the fingers and the thumb."


This will usually have the effect of moving the metacarpals, the bones of the palm, away from each other. Further refinement might be:

"Roll weight into the index finger and thumb"
"Spread the webbing between the index finger and thumb and ground down through there."

These will help to rebounce the weight up and to activate the inner arm. If the weight is still too much in the wrists you might hear:

"Roll the weight towards the fingertips."

This can help get a little more lift in the wrist and forearm.


Going Deeper



Once intelligence has awakened in the palm and wrist, a different approach needs to be taken. Over-spreading the fingers will actually sap the strength of the palm. Optimally, we want to create a balance between all the different parts of the hand so that all the parts are working the same amount. This will create harmony in the nervous system of the hand. You can tell when you have achieved this, as the quality of the skin in the fingers and palms changes dramatically, becoming soft and receptive.

The first step towards this is to reign those fingers in. The thumb mounds can still spread to broaden the webbing, but the fingers need to be lined up with the metacarpals. (Take the time to feel around the back of the hand to make sure your are, in fact lining up finger with metacarpal and not a muscle or a ligament.)

Then look at hour hands. Are the fingers longer than the palm, or the palm longer than the fingers? If the fingers are longer, it is likely that they are going to be stronger, and vice versa, so you will need to charge up the weaker element. When you lengthen your fingers, to they curl up? If they do, then your knuckles are over-working and need to soften.



Strong Hands, Open Shoulders

Once you have the fingers lined up properly, attempt these actions to activate the hands and observe the effects in the shoulders and back. In poses with both hands on the floor, set yourself up so that the index fingers and metacarpals are parallel to each other (the hand slightly turned out).

1) Lengthen the index finger and little finger.

2) Roll the metacarpals in.

3) As you roll the outer metacarpal in, roll the weight into the inner hand.

4) Keeping the index finger long, pull the inner metacarpal back and the outer metacarpal forward.

These actions provide an incredible amount of strength to the hand that can transform poses such as Adho Mukha Vrkshasana (Hand Stand). They can also provide organization that can open up the shoulder girdle and chest in many other poses.


Applying the Actions

Think of these actions in the following poses:

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog)
Prasarita Padottanasana 1 (Widespread Feet Pose)
Padahastasana (Hands Under Feet Pose)
Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose)
Vashisthasana (Vashistha's Pose)
Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose)
Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)
Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana (Upward Facing Fog Pose)
Adho Mukha Vrkshasana (Hand Stand)
Pincha Mayurasana (Peacock Feather Pose or Forearm Balance)
Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow Pose)
Salamba Shirshasana (Head Stand)
Salamba Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand)
Janu Shirshasana (Head of the Knee Pose) - with hands on blocks
Triang Mukhaikapada Pashchimottanasana (Three Limbs Facing Intense West Stretch Pose) - with hands on blocks
Ardha Baddha Padma Pashchimottanasana (Half Bound Lotus Intense West Stretch Pose) - with hands on blocks
Pashchimottanasana (Intense West Stretch Pose) - with hands on blocks
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Anatomy, Alignment and Action in the Practice of Yoga, Part I: An Introduction

Level: All Levels

(Click here for a fully illustrated, printable PDF of this article.)

"II.46
The posture of meditation should be steady and comfortable.
II.47
It should be effortlessly relaxed and infinitely expansive.
II.48
Then the yogin will be undisturbed by the buffeting of opposing forces."
- The Yoga-Sutra of Pata˝jali

The physical practice of asana, especially in the Iyengar Method, is based on a well-defined technique in much the same way as dance or the martial arts. Any given movement can be broken down into a coordinated combination of muscles and joints working together to achieve the desired effect. The human body is only capable of a finite number of ways to move, so every movement, every shape that the body assumes, regardless of discipline or technique, emerges from the same vocabulary that we all share. All that distinguishes your movement vocabulary from that of the person next to you is the freedom and skill you posses, either through genetics or training, in the fundamental building blocks of movement.

Simple and advanced yoga poses share the same actions. In simpler poses the interactions of the different body parts are less complex, but the seed of even the most advanced backbend, for example, can be contained in the simplest of standing poses. This is the basis of a student’s progression in Yoga as conceived by B. K. S. Iyengar. Simple poses, such as standing poses, are used to learn the fundamental actions. These actions are then practiced and combined to condition the nervous system and build up the body’s intelligence and capacity. Once these fundamentals are mastered, progressively more challenging poses are introduced, along with more advanced actions and refinements.

In this way the student’s flexibility and endurance are brought along hand-in-hand with their capacity for introspection and discernment. Consider Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow Pose), the first of the advanced backward extensions that the student works towards. For many it can seem like an impossible feat to lift up off the floor and straighten the arms without jamming into the lower back. Careful investigation into such poses as Virabhadrasana I (Warrior Pose I) and Viparita Dandasana (Inverted Staff Pose) will reveal similar actions in the leg, sacrum, lower back and shoulder girdle. (See Figures 1 to 3.) The student is then in a position to take advantage of this to support the development of the harder pose.


Practicing and mastering the important actions in the less challenging poses will prepare the body for the more advanced backward extension. This, in turn, will enrich the relatively simpler poses that lead up to it. There is a story that is sometimes told to illustrate this point. A man went to Mr. Iyengar for help with Urdhva Dhanurasana. Mr. Iyengar worked with the man for a year helping with his problems, but in all that time would not let him even attempt the pose. Finally, when Mr. Iyengar was satisfied with the man’s progress, he told the man to go up into it. The man was then able to perform it with ease and with none of the problems he had originally been experiencing.

(Click here for a fully illustrated, printable PDF of this article.)


Differing Approaches



Asana in the Vinyasa tradition is primarily a choreographic exercise in which placement of the limbs in one pose shape leads the practitioner into the next. (See Figure 4.) It is the breath that unites the poses into a coherent whole, flowing from shape to shape, giving them their cumulative spiritual effect. Movement is external, whereas action is internal. In the Iyengar Method, the student moves simply and efficiently from pose to pose, sustaining and deepening the action being explored. (See Figure 5.)



The student’s awareness is bound by concentration to the nervous system as it performs increasingly subtle internal muscle actions. Over time, and with much effort, that awareness and control is refined to the level of transcendent penetration. Mastery over the body’s subtle actions becomes a vehicle by which to discriminate between that which is transitory and impermanent, full of anguish and sorrow, and that which is truly eternal and beyond all suffering. It is on this level that the practice taught by B.K.S. Iyengar has encoded within it the precepts of Classical Yoga as put forth by Pata˝jali in his Yoga-Sutra:

"II.15
To the observer all is sorrow, be it from the anguish of change, the sorrow caused by latent impulses in deep memory or the conflict that arises from fluctuations of the underlying qualities of nature.
II.16
Future sorrow is that which must be overcome.
II.17
The confusion of observer with observed is the cause of that which must be overcome."

The observer is pure awareness. The observed, on the other hand, is the physical body, the entirety of the nervous system, the senses that interpret the information of the body, the mind that organizes and the consciousness that controls that information, all of which are bound together in the actions of the pose. In that binding they become conditioned, purified and integrated until the untouchable underlying awareness can realize its true nature as something other than that which has been bound. The student works from the external to the internal, from the extremities of the limbs inward to the organic core, from the gross to the most subtle and refined. In this way the boundary between voluntary and involuntary, between body and mind is permeated, preparing the nervous system for the most subtle step of final emancipation.

The basic shape of a given pose, then, is secondary to the underlying body actions of which it is composed, so much so that, should it not be possible to maintain the constituent actions of a pose while striving for the classic shape – bringing the hand to the floor in a standing pose or the head to the shin, say, in a forward extension – then the shape must be broken and a prop must be used to support the body. To do otherwise is to violate the first tenet of yoga, non-violence.

(Click here for a fully illustrated, printable PDF of this article.)


Areas of Focus

In Yoga terms an “action” is different from a movement. A movement involves part of the body moving through space, whereas an action involves the internal movements of muscle, bone and sinew. Taking your arm from down by your side and lifting it up to point at something in front of you would be considered a movement. That simple movement involves a number of actions: the arm lengthens from shoulder to fingertip; the outer arm muscles contract and the inner arm muscles lengthen; the crook of the elbow extends; the shoulder blade moves.

The actions of which the body is capable are as numerous as its many parts. For the purpose of yoga poses (or asanas) the ones we are interested in are fairly straightforward, especially at the beginning. To make them more accessible, let us organize them into areas of focus, starting at the base, and working our way up, the standard approach in the Iyengar Method.

In the most general terms, there are eight areas of focus (See Figure 6.):

The Feet: spreading, grounding.
The Legs: extending, flexing.
The Hips: turning in, turning out, folding, opening.
The Pelvis: tilting forward, tilting back.
The Trunk (including the belly, the ribs, the back and the chest): stabilizing, lengthening, extending, broadening.
The Shoulders: drawing back and down, connecting in, broadening, rolling out.
The Arms: extending, flexing.
The Hands: spreading, grounding.

(Click here for a fully illustrated, printable PDF of this article.)


Levels of Complexity

The actions themselves can be thought of as having different levels of difficulty or complexity. It should be said, however, that though simple and lower level actions may be easier, they are as important as the more advanced actions. A practice focusing on fundamentals is just as valid to an advanced practitioner as a complicated routine of difficult poses. The idea of “levels” in general is entirely arbitrary and can be confusing, especially between different yoga centers and individual teachers. The categories presented here are not necessarily “levels” in the sense that you might take a “Level I” class, or a “Level II/III” class. I present these divisions as a general guideline.

Level I – Fundamental Actions

These volitional internal actions can be thought of as the impetus or end result of an external movement, or the intention behind that movement. For example, grounding through the feet would be the impetus behind standing upright. Even when one is fully standing, however, such as in Tadasana (Mountain Pose), it is still possibly to consciously and intentionally ground down through the feet. The same could be said of other component actions off standing up, such as extending the legs or lifting the chest.

Level II – Fundamental Combinations

This involves the idea of actions working in opposition to each other. Nothing in the body works in isolation. A limb that moves is able to do so because another part of the body is grounding and stabilizing it. The notion of being able to fully isolate an action is a simplification used as a convention to facilitate ease of learning at the beginning. Consciously performing two seemingly unrelated or opposite actions at the same time can be challenging to the beginner and the advanced practitioner alike. Try patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time. Or try playing two completely different musical lines on a keyboard with both hands simultaneously. Combining actions is a skill in itself and is the basis of a deeper meditative approach to asana. A mind trying to hold multiple actions together at the same time is unlikely to be wandering.

Level III – Refinements

When first approaching fundamental actions or combinations, the primary concern of the student is usually “Am I doing it? Am I doing it right?” There is an element of all or nothing to the approach. Once the student has familiarity with an action, the challenge then becomes to maintain freshness, lest the mind become dull and the practice rote. Here is where refinement comes in. If you are turning the thigh out in the hip socket, for example, what part of the thigh are you focusing on. From where are you initiating the action? How are you stabilizing the rotation? This is where artistry comes into the practice, as any simple action can be approached from a multitude of perspectives.

Level IV – Kinesthetic Actions

This category of action is somewhat harder to define. Here the practitioner is less concerned with the mechanics of a given action or combination and more concerned with their accumulated or even secondary effects. Based on a firm grounding in the fundamentals, vectors of energy and underlying intention become key in this approach. Let us return to the example of the out-turned thigh. What effect does the action have on the leg as a whole? Turning the thigh out engages the muscles of the outer leg, but also lengthens the inner leg and opens the groin. Approaching standing poses such as Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose), Utthita Parshvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose) and Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose) from the perspective of opening the groin as opposed to the opening hip would be a kinesthetic approach.

The mechanics of anatomy can even be abandoned completely in favor of imagery and metaphor. Any system, objective or subjective, classical or self-created can be applied to great effect. One might work with ideas of the elements or the Gunas (the three underlying qualities of Classical Yoga philosophy). One might work with lines of energy or adjectives of expression. This approach is limited only by the imagination and, more importantly, the clarity of the teacher or practitioner.

Level V – Advanced Organizers

In the Iyengar Method a pose is broken down into its constituent parts and then rebuilt upwards from the base. Once all the individual parts are mastered, then the task becomes to re-integrate them into a complete pose. This requires an intensely meditative mind capable of balancing discerning detail with holistic awareness. At this stage one returns to the fundamentals and imbue them with new meaning and resonance. Here it becomes possible to organize an entire practice around observation of one or two actions or body parts. How does the action affect the pose, and the pose the action? How does the action impact the living breathing practice sequence as a whole?

At the Yoga Journal Conference held in Estes Park in 2005, Mr. Iyengar joked that the practice of the assembled crowd was a holistic practice “because it is full of holes”. It is at this most advanced level that the student attempts to rectify this and unite action with body, body with mind, mind with the eternal and unchanging.

(Click here for a fully illustrated, printable PDF of this article.)


In articles to come, we will look at each of these levels of action in more detail, outlining the theory and application that underlie the methodology of practice that drives an anatomical approach to yoga.
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Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose) In Depth


Level: Fundamentals to Advanced

I'm very excited to present to you this excerpt from my manuscript "Yoga: Practice and Play," beautifully illustrated by my cover artist (and mother) Barbara Hulanicki. (For more info about her, check out her website at www.barbarahulanickidesign.com.)

In the manuscript I work with the idea that the body has only a limited number of mechanical actions of which it is capable, and that all poses, be they simple or complex, are made up of combinations of those actions. It is possible to use simpler poses to refine and develop these actions, creating opening, flexibility and stamina in the body which can then be taken on to much more complex poses.

In the article we will work through a complete blueprint of all the mechanical actions of the pose, with variations to highlight and emphasize each.

Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose) is given as a beginner pose, but its simplicity can offer even the advanced practitioner the opportunity to delve deep into the actions of the body. It can be taken as its most obvious category, a standing pose, but it can also be taken as any of these:

1) A forward extension, requiring a full stretch of the legs and full range of motion in the hip socket as the pelvis tilts over the thigh bone. The trunk itself must also extend (the back ribs must come into the trunk and the chest stay open) lest it collapse forward.

2) A hip opener, as the front thigh must turn out as much as possible to organize the hip socket and allow for the most optimal lateral tilt of the pelvis.

3) A twist, as the pelvis and trunk must rotate slightly down towards the floor while coming into the pose and requiring a compensatory upward rotation to bring it back to its lateral extension.

4) A backward extension, as the sacrum must absorb, the shoulder blades must come into the back, the back ribs into the trunk and the chest must stay open lest the trunk collapse forward.

The specific body actions we will be looking at in Utthita Trikonasana are the following:

Coordinating the arms and legs to lengthen the trunk
Uniform stretching of the arms and trunk
Rotating the trunk
Stretching the legs
Extending through the big toe mound
Grounding through the heel
Outwardly rotating the thigh
Lengthening the outer thigh/outer hip away from the trunk
Shoulder action with arms to the side
Lateral extension with twisting action

I hope this will help you refine your pose and give you ideas as to how to better integrate Utthita Trikonasana into your practice.

Click here for the fully illustrated article in printable PDF form.
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