19 March 2009

Supta Virasana

Saturday 14th March 2009

A male friend of mine (who has a very healthy back) ordered an inversion table which arrived yesterday. He brought it over to my house last night and we put it together. He’s lent it to me for a couple of weeks in the hope that it might help my back.

At some time close to midnight last night I was hanging upside down by my ankles.

I shall reserve all judgement about the benefits of this contraption until I’ve given it a fair trial.

On the mat – Dull mind and Supta Virasana

So I got to bed around 1am and had a few hours sleep before the dog woke me up at 4.30am to go outside. When she came back in and jumped onto my bed her little fluffy backside was covered in squished brown you-know-what. No choice but to throw her in the bath, then change the bedcovers.

I was still awake when the alarm went off at 6.45. But as I was determined to practice this morning I got up, got dressed and headed for Kosta’s studio.
Practice started off on autopilot, then progressively slowed down as I lost power until finally the stall alarm went off (pilots will know what I’m talking about here).

The mind that hasn’t had enough sleep is shrouded in a heavy fog. It’s dull and blunt and operating in a kind of safe mode, doing only what has to be done. Alertness, focus, density of thought, engagement, will and clarity are all sidelined by the dull mind - it only has the capacity to cope with what’s floating on the surface.
Trying to observe the operations of the dull mind while doing a yoga practice is like the blind leading the blind. There’s no mental clarity to observe and work with the mind , so all you can do is go through the motions and either the dull mind will be sharpened by the practice or it will be completely blunted. The sharpening came with the backbends, better late than never.

Here’s how it evolved:
5A’s and 3B’sThen standing poses up to Parsvottanasana at which point my head got the spins (vertigo), so I decided not to do any balancing poses which turned into a raincheck on the rest of the standing poses.

According to the Iyengar system, Supta Virasana is supposed to be a good follow on from a series of standing poses. Personally I’d find any of the lay-down-and rest- poses good at that point but the authentic, full version of Supta Virasana - not the one with a bolster and blankets - can be quite challenging if you’re not used to it, so best to travel into it slowly and carefully.

I started in seated Virasana and spent a few breaths allowing the leg muscles to acclimatise and soften until the buttocks dropped gently and comfortably onto the floor. As I leaned back onto my elbows, my lumbar spine arched a little in protest, but I spent a couple of breaths in this halfway position, pressing the kness down while lifting the pelvis up – tailbone curling in and pubis pulling towards navel - to stretch the entire front of my body and ease the arch out of the lower spine. This half position is great one to engage mula bandha as you can really feel the whoosh of prana flowing upwards from the root to the throat. Then I lowered my pelvis and buttocks to the floor and walked my elbows forward to ease my body three-quarters down to the floor first coming to rest on the back of the head for a couple of breaths and then inch by inch bringing the chin closer to the sternum until the thoracic spine came to rest flat on the floor. Traditionally the arms are extended above the head so the back of the hands rest on the floor.

And there I lay, with legs bent back like a chicken, for about 5 minutes.

There’s a natural curve in the lumbar in this pose but it’s often exaggerated because of tight quadriceps. Once you’re relatively comfortable here, the physical work in the pose involves drawing the lower front ribs into the body to reduce the lumbar curve and relaxing the front body and legs to receive the stretch.

I came up with the intention of doing the seated poses up to the Marichys but didn’t get too far. My back stiffened up in Paschimottanasana, it needed a good twist - Janu Sirsasana – a looooong deep twisty Janu Sirsasana, a pose that I can hang out in for days. It gave me some quiet internal time to explore where I actually was. The mental fatigue was still there making it really difficult to focus – and poor focus is dangerous when you’re working with injuries. The mind body connection to my lumbar was quite dull causing all the muscle fibres in that area to feel thickened and stiff.
So I did a couple of twists and moved on to backbends –passive ones over a block were good to start with just to release the area before activating it.

Backbends are great for injecting energy into both the mind and body and today they seemed to instantly cut right through all the mental fog: Salabhasana, Dhanurasana, Ustrasana, Setu Bandhasana and Urdhva Dhanurasana, and suddenly I knew where I was.
I emerged from the coma into a beautiful shiny world as if waking up and seeing it for the first time.
What next…Navasana and some other core work to help with rebuilding the support networks in my back: Sadie Nardini has provided some good core sequences on her site here which I’ve been occasionally incorporating into my practice. After a few of those I attempted a Chakrasana roll for the first time in about 6 months and pulled it off to my complete surprise…a deliciously slow, smooth, controlled roll over into Dog Pose…brilliant!

Then lovely, lovely inversions – the full finishing sequence to round off the morning’s practice.

And voila! Another beautiful day begins.

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