This will end up being a long post, which I’ll add to in increments, to record my current Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga practice. After the damage done to my back over the last couple of years I’ve almost had to rebuild my entire physical yoga practice from scratch, but this has been a beautiful and humbling experience and a journey rich with learning. Poses that came easily a year ago (like Marichy D, Bhujangasana and Garbha Pindasana) I can’t even get close to now.
But with time, patience and compassion, they will return.
This post is just a very personal record of where my physical practice is right now so in a year or so I’ll be able to refer to it for comparison.
Blessings to dear Guruji, Sri K. Patthabi Jois, who passed away on 21st May 2009, for teaching the Ashtanga method to my teachers David and Simi Roche, and to them both for what they have passed on to me. And blessings to all my other wonderful teachers in the yoga and Buddhist traditions (and to my son, my greatest teacher).
Surya Namaskars – 5 As: I step through the first 2 or 3 until I get the breath going and Mula Bandha supporting my back, then I begin to jump all the vinyasas. Starting slow, I pick up speed and intensity as I travel through them. Still not easy to float forward like I used to, as I jump the weight of my airborne legs pulls through my hips and as yet my back hasn’t mended enough to support this weight.
Surya Namaskars – 5 Bs: good to be feel strong enough to be doing 5 again instead of 3 and I’m keeping the back heel grounded as I step forward now. My starting squat is actually quite deep and my arms extend forward (parallel to the floor) before they rise and lead me into Utkatasana. It’s graceful and feels like I’m raising my hands and heart in a prayer to the sky.
Padangusthasana and Pada Hastasana – remembering to widen my elbows and draw my shoulderblades in like flat plates. Simi once watched me working in this pose (a few years ago), smiled sweetly and said, “soft but strong”. I’ve never forgotten that.
Trikonasana – to the right I can still only get my hand to my ankle on a good day because of the restriction in my right hip. Left side is a toe grab. Such a complex pose with so many little parts that can be adjusted.
Parivritta Trikonasana - a good, strong pose, hand to floor, spine straight and hips aligned (I think). It soothes rather than aggravates my hips and lumbar. This is the first standing pose where I fully engage and feel the energetic effects of drawing up the inner legs, an instruction that has a subtle but powerful energetic effect that stimulates mula bandha. Such visualisations prove that we can move energy (prana) with our thoughts.
Parsvakonasana - still troublesome – after bending my right leg I can’t always lean my body weight to the right without supporting the descent. The muscles supporting my right hip must still be in a very weak state. Some days I can only do the modification, supporting my weight with the elbow on the knee; other days are better and I get to the full pose and can gradually work strength into that hip by pressing the right heel firmly into the ground. Left side no problems.
Parivritta Parsvakonasana is also a challenge. I used to love doing this deliciously twisted spinal pose to it’s fullest. Now the modified version (opposite elbow to knee and hands together in prayer) is where I start while I sus out my body’s current state of elasticity (which changes daily). On a good day I can assume a rather weak version of the full pose with the top arm extended and my back heel grounded.
Prasaritta Padottanasana A, B, C and D - all good, crown of head to floor, another pose that comes alive when I draw the inner leg energy up into my pelvic floor. With almost all of the forward bends, both standing and seated, the strong forward tilt of the pelvis (variously instructed by teachers as "lift and pull back the sitting bones", "draw the pubis back between the legs", etc) is enhanced enormously by a little counter movement - drawing the top of the pubic bone slightly INWARDS toward the tailbone.
Parsvottanasana – another favourite (I have many), a very workable pose, it feels almost perfect if there is such a thing as a perfect pose. Nose is close to shin and hips are square (I think). I love the challenge of coming up from this pose in a perfect line from tailbone through crown with a deep core strength in teh lower abdomen. I work my feet strongly into the ground to build leg strength and focus on pulling up quads to safely and fully stretch the hamstrings in preparation for UHP.
Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana – another favourite that always tests my focus. I can hardly believe how well I do this one at the moment, I rarely topple or teeter. Foot is as high as my eyeline to the front and a little lower to the side. On good days the final unsupported hold to the front isn’t drooping with the 5 breaths.
Ardha Baddha Padma Parsvottanasana – this pose gave me a lot of grief during the chronic back injury period but I've got it back again. Although I never really lost the pose on either side, for a couple of months I couldn’t come up from the first side as my right hip wouldn’t support the weight of the movement. I had to unfold my Padmasana leg and put it down before coming up from the forward bend. But this has slowly changed in the last couple of months and it now feels safe to come up correctly…even keeping hold of my big toe until I’m fully up to standing. I love working the “pull up the inner legs” instruction in this pose, especially applying it to the Padmasana leg – little things adjust that take great sensitivity to notice but when my mind watches the subtle internal dynamics that occur within a pose my internal awareness deepens.