Quite a mixed practice this morning, probably due to my increased sensitivity to all the subtle things that are playing out beneath the surface of practice.
I was able to observe when my focus started to wane, when it become dull, when it wandered off, when I got drowsy, when the energy picked up, when a sliver of fear arose, or the breath changed key.
And because I was noticing so so much, it seemed like I was all over the place going from one extreme to another. Maybe I was, maybe I wasn’t.
At one point I was yawning in between poses, and then drifting off into what seemed like unconsciousness while holding a standing pose. It’s become really obvious to me lately that when my mental focus is scattered, the energy dissipates and practice just disintegrates.
“Where the mind goes, the energy follows”
So I forced my mind to stay on track, even though it wanted to vague out. Some days you can observe the mind jumping from thought to thought – monkey mind they call it because it resembles a monkey jumping from tree to tree. But it wasn’t like that today, it was vague and kept fading out as if the dimmer switch was being turned down until I felt almost unconscious, in a blank misty land. What is it that detects the whereabouts of the mind when it wanders? What is it that directs the mind back to the present?
This process is vividly clear during extended periods of meditation and I’ve been so lucky to have done a number of 10 day Vipassana retreats where one sits and observes the mechanics and the make up of the mind without interruption for 11 hours a day. You get to see how it works and all the crap it’s accumulated over the years. Then you go about cleaning it out.
Back to practice, I slowed down for the seated poses, only doing vinyasas between the poses and not between sides. The gallery was warm from a 3 day heat wave which allowed me to slow down the practice without my body stiffening up.
Again it felt right to stay a little longer than 5 breaths in the seated poses. I call these research practices because I get to know what each pose is really doing to me when I stay in it longer. Particular body parts have to give way to allow the pose to emerge and this doesn’t happen straight away. It’s hard to explain but fascinating to watch the body assimilating the pose…some parts readjusting, melting and releasing other parts taking up supporting roles and engaging naturally to allow for release, extension and mobilisation.
When I got to Sarvangasana, I tried my best to recall the internal work I usually do in Sirsasana and replicate it in this pose. It involves a strong mula bandha which pulls energy up from eh lower body and directs it straight up through sushumna nadi to the upper chakras. I don’t know why this comes easier in Sirsasana than Sarvangasana for me, maybe because my body as a whole is doing less supporting work in the Headstand than in the Shoulderstand. Don’t know.
In Sirsasana when I get this internal energetic flow going, my body instantly aligns itself in the pose, and I balance lightly on my fontanel with almost no weight in my body…defies gravity somehow. More difficult in Sarvangasana…but maybe I just need to practice it more often in this pose. I’d like to find the legendary “perfect alignment” in Sarvangasana – this pose is all about the throat chakra (Sirsasana stimulates the crown chakra). Imagine in Sarvangasana directing a strong torrent of prana from the legs through the pelvis and up a perfectly unobstructed pipeline into the whirling vortex where the throat area is closed off (chin should be pressed close to the sternum).
Often in Sarvangasana, students are so preoccupied with what’s happening in the upper body (neck, chin, shoulders) that their legs just hang forgotten in the air. But it’s not until every part of the body and mind id fully participating in a pose that it progresses away from gymnastics and into the realm of unified yoga.
In Sarvangasana the feet should be neither pointed, nor fully flexed, but halfway between and you have to keep half an eye on them constantly or they’ll keep sneaking back to their favourite position. The inner heels have to lift up to the ceiling as if being pulled up by a hoist. The quadriceps should be well engaged and pulled up and pressing back towards the thighbones, but this has to be balanced by two important actions:1) the sacrum pressing forward towards the pubis and 2) the pubic bone lifting towards the feet.
These actions will set up the foundation that will align the pelvis so the energy that's been drawn up by mula bandha won’t get blocked in the pelvic area.
The front of the body must lift strongly upwards from the collarbone to the pubis and not collapse and crease in the abdomen. The upper thoracic spine must move deeply into the body towards the breastbone.
Holding all these alignments for the duration of 20 breaths really isn't easy. As soon as the attention wanes, the pose is lost. I find my spinal muscles get lazy after a few breaths, my shoulders slacken off and creep towards my neck, I lose the foot position over and over and my leg muscles take it upon themselves to lighten up for a little break every now and then.
It takes determination to keep the alignment happening correctly while focussing internally on the subtle energetics of the pose and consciously directing prana up from the pelvic floor to the throat.
But when you get it right, you rocket into outerspace.