Thursday, March 09, 2006

Seventeenth and Eighteenth Classes

Week 6: Days 2-3
Saturday afternoon was a posture clinic led by Jane.

Eagle modifications: students can perform Eagle without the arm twist, but with arms parallel and lifted. Cue four basic actions to the pose: center hips and shoulders; open chest with shoulder blades together; lengthen spine; draw knees, elbows, and wrists to center line of body. Consider: “exhale, right arm under, right leg up and over” “lower belly engages; lengthen the back of the neck; lift elbows away from chest; thumbs away from face.

Dancer’s pose: For some students, getting into a one-legged balance is the entire pose. If student’s quads are tight, student may bend over to reach and touch foot.. First cue to get hips aligned to front and level; then kick back and lift arm. Cue students to grab soft part of arch, thumb pointed to back. Cue hitchhiker’s thumb. Some still won’t get it.

Adjustment: standing slightly behind student, put your back hip into student’s front hip; put your forward arm across student’s front torso for stability; then use your back hand to adjust the student’s grip on the student’s foot. That way you are assuming responsibility for the balance in the pose, and student can learn correct grip.

Tree: Cue foot above/below knee joint; ok to keep toe of lifted foot on ground; neutral hips; lengthen tail bone; soften shoulders; hip socket of bent leg should be opening.

When teaching balancing poses, cue that it’s ok to lose your balance, fall out of pose, then resume pose.

Triangle: widen stance of feet; arms extended, ankles should be under wrists. Cue: lengthen underside; reach way forward, when you can’t reach farther forward, rotate lower arm down, upper arm up. Rest lower hand on forward shin; spill pelvis to one side; straighten torso to avoid making lump in ribcage. Most students will go to the edge of their mobility range in their hip, and then they’ll bend their spines to get hand to floor. Better to keep spine straight and put hand onto shin. Engage core to come back up.

Prasarita Padottanasana: To coach student out of pose: walk hands forward, draw to a flat back, then rise. Some will adjust feet wide to get into pose, and narrow them to get out. Cue pelvic floor muscles. Turn forward foot to front of room, then forward knee; then windmill arms to the floor: chaturanga dandasana.
Cobra: Upper back workout. Cue: Chin, chest and hands roll off the mat. Lengthen and soften back of neck; gaze down; slide glutes down to lengthen back and tail bone.

Floor bow: Cue: reach for top of feet or ankles; lift feet up and back; press tops of feet into your hands. Watch for student’s knees spreading; cue inward rotation of thighs; gaze forward.

Camel: Cues: stand on knees, feet parallel; hands to base of spine; hips over knees; lift breastbone to sky; unweight low back. Don’t cue C1 students to drop hands to heels – they’ll try it and hurt themselves if not flexible. Cue to keep neck neutral until end, then relax. Camel is both a powerful and scary pose. Warn students of dizziness, nausea, emotions. No other animal willingly enters this pose, with the entire underside exposed and vulnerable. Opening to it enables spiritual growth, but as its results can be unexpected, it’s best to warn students in advance so they know how to deal with its effects.

Paschimottanasana: draw glutes back from sitz bones; straighten legs, drawing feet back to face; bend forward with a flat back; if no lower back issues, round down lower.

Sunday was a two-part session.

The morning was a jivamukti yoga session led by Alanna.

The class got set up (three rows of yoga mats, probably 60 people, all told). Then Alanna greeted each of us individually, looking us in the eye and bowing, hands in Anjali mudra.

She then lectured on chakras.
Ø Energy centers
Ø Doorways
Ø Levels of consciousness
Ø As you observe the posture of a student, consider the chakras associated with aspects of posture, holding places for energy.
Ø As we move through the chakras, many westerners are characteristically out of balance.

When you are able to heal yourself, you can become a great teacher. Everyone has some kind of injury – whether a disc, a neck muscle, the heart. We tend to be out of balance.

Chakras are described in detail in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. All styles of hatha yoga derive from that work. It was written between the 10th and 14th centuries by a renegade group. Radical. (radical means “root”; a radical gets to the root of something). HYP emphasizes how to free minds, both one’s own and others’. It emphasizes kriya yoga. Kriya focuses on the purification of the body. It involves esoteric practices such as irrigation of sinuses. It also includes posture practice and describes 14 asanas, the use of mudras (mudras are physical actions or poses, typically in the hands, that entail symbolism of various kinds. HYP also describes nadis and marma points – these are understood as energy channels running through the subtle body. One mudra is formed by extending the fingers of the hand, and drawing the tip of the forefinger to the tip of the thumb in a circle. In this mudra, the forefinger represents the individual, the thumb represents god. It is the mudra symbolizing wisdom. The three extended fingers represent the three gunas. (NB: for more on gunas

HYP describes chakras in detail. The ultimate goal of hatha yoga is not actually enlightenment, but rather nagam, or silence – to be able to hear the sound of perfect silence. Listening is the one and only way that you can communicate with God. Prayer – even silent prayer – is speaking through vibrations of the mind. If you listen closely enough, god communicates the same way – through vibrations of your mind. We chant OM to align ourselves with the vibrations of the divine. The most fundamental thing of all is vibration. We refine our inward listening by refining our outward listening. We can move in that direction by listening to uplifting music, observing silence, listening without judgment – and recognize in this that all thought is judgment of one kind or another.

One reason not to practice with your class of yoga students, when teaching, is to encourage your students to listen, rather than to watch. Eyes give us 80% of the information we receive about the world around us. What do eyes see? What we want or expect them to see. Optical illusions can happen – not sound illusions. You see what you are ready to see.

Alanna then stated that she owns three snakes, which she takes out for fresh air in the park sometimes. She stated: I can’t tell you how many times people have walked right past an 8 foot boa constrictor without ever seeing it. Its presence doesn’t register with them because they haven’t imagined seeing such a thing in a city park. She then referred to a scene from What the Bleep Do We Know?, where the main character cannot see Columbus’ ships as they arrive in the West Indies – the ships appear to be clouds, as there is no other referent for them that makes sense. Where there is no context for a view, there is no view.

Ask yourself this: “what am I missing right now because I don’t understand enough to see it?”

Chakras are seven centers of vibration in the body. Each of the seven has a unique vibration associated with it. Everything is vibrational.

Recommended book: Nara Bramha. Source for some of these ideas. You should never be surprised when someone walks into the room – your awareness should be open to that information well in advance of the person’s arrival. All things vibrate, and we can perceive those vibrations. We may perceive some more than others. How do we align to perceive them? Set aside judgment, which mixes in and confuses perception.

Alanna then led us through guided meditation and chant to engage with various of the chakras, making the point that the only way to experience chakras is to experience them. Descriptions don’t usefully approximate the experience.
She then provided us with bandanas for blindfolds, and led us through a 2 hour vinyasa practice.

Though I took no notes during that practice, I’ll try to write up later my perceptions of and reactions to that experience.

Sunday afternoon was an adjustment clinic held in Cheesman Park. It began with a discussion of the morning session. Various people made the following points:

Ø Jivamukti has as a goal “openness”
Ø When you don’t notice a feeling in a chakra, explore the aspects of life associated with that chakra. You may find reasons for the numbness or lack of perception.
Ø The practice was radical
Ø The practice was really intense – scary and terrifying. My yoga mat seemed very small.
Ø The words Alanna used throughout the practice were powerful. They struck several deep chords.
Ø It is intimate to look into another’s eyes.
o Alanna: I learned it from ____. He does marriage counseling, as well. He instructs couples with problems to look into each others’ eyes without comment but while emoting compassion, acceptance and love for 60 minutes at a stretch.
Ø It makes you realize that you can have that kind of connection with other people – no words
Ø I could feel the vibrations in some chakras – I felt alive and radiant
Ø You asked us to hold wheel longer for someone else – and I managed to hold it longer than I have ever done for myself
o Alanna: the last set of wheel poses done for someone whom you dislike lifts a great weight off of some people.
Ø I noticed imbalances more while blindfolded.

Alanna: HYP talks about the control channel, the shushumna nadi. It is typically blocked. Right and left sides start at base (muladana) and rise spiraling along the spine, crossing at chakras. Right – heart, energy, “ha”: sun. Left – lower, cooling, “tha”=moon. Kundalini – imaged as a snake coiled at the base, blocking energy channels. Wakes when fire (tapas) is generated. When the right channel is blocked, you can harm others. When the left is blocked, you can harm yourself.

“Entrainment” occurs in an orchestra when all the instruments are in tune but one. The vibrations from the others tend to tune the out of tune instrument. When you play two notes simultaneously, even if not within standard harmonic intervals, eventually, you can come to perceive their relationship to one another. Flocks of birds are so entrained to one another – so aware, that they move as one. Same with schools of fish. Collision is a human phenomenon.

Adjustment clinic review:

Concentration – 100% on student, 100% on class.
intention – serve student; when intention is right, adjustment will be right
breathing – match student’s breath pattern while adjusting
connect to earth – safety, start at grounding level, balance provides frame of reference for adjustments. Train eyes to start at ground and work up
have direction – know where you’re going by making sure you’ve been there before you lead others; in some yoga traditions the very touch of a teacher can transmit all the teacher’s knowledge and enlightenment to the student. When you touch a student, your touch gives the student your knowledge of that asana, knowledge of starting, of experiencing, of ending.
Honor and acknowledge student’s pain – because you want them to be able to walk at the end of the adjustment; recall that pain can be pain or it can be fear and student won’t know the difference; open your awareness and listen to student. Become empty of yourself. Practice and meditate and listen and work with those who will give you feedback.
Regularity, enthusiasm, caution – balance all three
Take responsibility – for students’ experience in your class; for their health and well being; for their spiritual enlightenment; visualize their potential.


Utkatasana: Stand behind student, your feet close to student’s heels, bend knees slightly and with hands on student’s hips, draw student’s hips onto your thighs just above the knees.

Virabhadrasana II: Start at feet – brace foot, drawing heel back; tail swipe for duck butts; draw student’s back arm farther back to straighten forward-leaning torso; if torso and leg move in that adjustment, brace the student’s back hip with your thumb at crease and then pull arm; front leg adjustment: with thumb of one hand in hip crease, pull front arm forward.

Tango adjustment: kneel behind student, facing same direction. Put your back hip into your student’s front hip and reach around the student’s torso, placing your front hand on student’s hip bone, drawing it back while maintaining forward hip pressure – this places student “between two panes of glass.”

Extended side angle: when pose is performed elbow-to-knee, use the same adjustments as Virabhadrasana II. If reaching forward, help internally rotate front arm. Also use Triangle adjustments here, too.

Natarajasana: Behind student, start by providing (with your front arm) a platform for the student’s uplifted arm to rest on, providing some lift. Then grasp the ankle of the student’s bent leg and lift straight up.

Tree: start from behind student. With fingertips on student’s temples, lift slightly on both sides simultaneously; bracket student’s heel with your first two toes; keep contact with temples throughout pose – balance will be disrupted otherwise.

Bujangasana: draw just the shoulders back – do not lift the student’s shoulders, nor pull them backwards. Place both hands palms down on student’s sacrum, press down and draw hands toward glutes (fingers pointed up back, not down). Or stand with the balls of your feet pressed onto the balls of the student’s foot.

Backbend series: child’s pose: pressure on ilium, pull back and rock gently. Work your hands up either side of the spine, pressing outwards with the heels of your palms, walking hands up spine.

Urdhva Dhanurasana: using your feet, block the student’s knees from widening too much; rest your elbows on your thighs, your hands beneath student’s heels, and lift straight up, using bicep strength. In this pose, with some students, you can lift them from the floor entirely, but only do so if their spines are very flexible and their bodies are in a teardrop shape.

Ustrasana: Let student drop back into pose first. Then move directly in front of student, feet on either side of student’s hips. Press your knees into the student’s hips, so you can control their movements with your hips, then reach under their arms to their backs (or even to their necks, if you can reach), and draw your hands down their backs (toward yourself), bearing some of the student’s weight yourself. Hold here until end of pose. Then help to lift student out of pose, but as soon as student starts to come out of pose, get out of the way to avoid discomforting student.

Bridge: Check foot placement, adjust as needed; straddle student’s knees, resting your sitz bones on student’s knees; bending forward, place hands at top of student’s thighs, helping to lift hips at student’s gluteal tuck; draw student’s legs into inward rotation.

Supine twist: Direct student into pose. Put your forward foot against student’s hip, rolling your ankle into student’s sacrum. Place your forward hand on student’s chest, just below shoulder, other hand on student’s thigh near hip, drawing thigh down to lengthen student’s spine, or place back hand lower on thigh (closer to knee), to deepen twist.