Tonight, my first real attempt at the Week 31-35 sequence from the LIght On Yoga series, and I notice that there are a lot of extra hip twists than in the Week 26-30 sequence.
My hips were aching deep inside the joints after the practice tonight, not a pleasant feeling. Which makes me wonder if its doing good or doing harm, I honesty can't tell. It feels good to get some movement into the lumbar spine and hip joints, and to open up facet joints that have deteriorated from over-use, but I could be wearing them away even more.
It felt like a very long practice, but really it wasn't.
I spent a good 15 minutes warming up gently, doing some stretches and Supta Padmasana. The practice proper started at 6pm and finished with the last pose at 7.30pm. After that I did some Pranayama and Savasana peeling my dead body up off the mat just before 8pm.
Saturday night, not a big night out, but a big night in.
This was not a warm bath kind of practice like I experience in safe, led classes at the studio.
It was more like two hours spent cutting my way through dense jungle while staying alert for snipers. This is a strange way to describe a yoga practice, but you probably know the feeling....
It happens at home alone when you brave the deep unknown territory of yoga practice.
I really pushed the boundaries with the initial Sirsasana (Headstand) sequence doing every single variation, including the Padmasana in Sirsasana on both sides, the twisted Padmasana in Sirsasana, as well as Pindasana. It wasn't until the final two breaths on the second side of Parsva Urdhva Padmasana that I discovered (or remembered) mula bandha. Once I connected the base chakra to the crown chakra and found the connecting channell, my body just naturally adjusted itself and aligned into the pose from the inside out.
After 12 minutes standing on my head, the pressure was building up. After unlocking my legs and raising them up to Sirsasana I pressed firmly into my forearms to lift the weight off my head for a couple of breaths, jus to squeeze every ounce of juice out of this pose before I finally came down.
An 18 minute marathon in Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand) followed...the new additions in the shoulderstand sequence are the twisted Padmasana variations and lowering the legs into Setu Bandha, then Eka Pada Setu Bandha at the end.
After doing Urdhva Padmasana in Sarvangasana and lowering the lotus legs in for Pindasana, you then have to twist to the left and the right sides for the Parsva variation. My hips and lumbar spine didn't allow for too much of a twisting movement because the lower spine is curved over, a dangerous position for me.
Iyengar instructs to take the left knee (remember I am in Shoulderstand with legs in Lotus here) over to touch the right ear eventually lowering the knee to the floor! I think I used to be able to do this, but for now, my lotus legs won't even release down very close to my face for Pindasana (due to lower back restriction) so when twisting my hips and legs to the side, my thighs are horizontal to the floor instead of vertical.
Still the Lotus twist is a challenge even with the thighs horizontal and I was happy to simply hold the pose at a safe edge and breathe in this very foreign position.
When I tried to move from Sarvangasana to Setu Bandha in Sarvangasana, I couldn't drop my legs down to the floor safely without threat of injuring my spine. I tried twice, then I tried lowering one leg at a time to the floor from Sarvangasana, but neither foot would quite reach the floor and the backbend placed too much stress on my lumbar (not to mention my supporting wrists). So I laid down on my back and lifted up into Setu Bandha from the floor, then did the Eka Pada variation from there.
After such a long time inverted, the counter poses are grounding but cruel: Jatara Parvatasana (an intense twisted abdominal hold), Supta Padangusthasana (more abs, but not so intense), and Chakrasana which was pleasantly easy - I rolled over and out of it with my elbows and forearms left on the floor, lifting them up to bring me into Dog Pose; from there a sweet little jump through, and two more abdominal poses followed: Paripoorna and Ardha Navasana (Boat poses).
Next came a couple of welcome back bends to ease open the front body and stretch the muscular tension out of the abdominals: Ustrasana (Camel), then Virasana in preparation for Supta Virasana and Paryankasana.
45 minutes into the practice I reached Janu Sirsasana and the half way mark - and it was absolute relief to get to this pose. I spent 10 breaths on each side trying to regain some degree of mental stability and physical integrity. The inversions had taken me beyond my limits, leaving my nervous systme a bit on edge. The abdominal poses had further challenged my body and core strength which simultaneously challenged my mental and emotional stability.
Janu Sirsasna provided a safe place to restore and recover.
Quietude and equilibrium returned over the next few seated poses - Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana, Triang Muka, Krounchasana, Marichyasana 1, and then finally some silent, timeless space inside Paschimottanasana.
On to the padmasana sequence...Baddha Padmasana, Yoga Mudrasana, Parvatasana (sweet relief to stretch the arms up after being bound behind my back for 10 minutes), then Kukkutasana.
Now I was getting serious...
I walked to the kitchen and got a bowl of water (no spray bottles) to douse my arms and legs in water so I could slip my arms through my Lotus legs (which brought back lovely memories of all those lovely sweaty Ashtanga practices at the shala).
And it worked. Sort of.
I got my slippery arms through to just below my elbows but not quite far enough to bend them up for Garbha Pindasana (the bones and joints of my lumbar spine won't allow that much curvature).
It works better to swap these two poses in the sequence: Garbha Pindasana first, then Kukkutasana (same as in the Ashtanga sequence). As soon as you lift into Kukkutasana and balance, the legs slide down the arms. Its much easier to work at slipping the arms through as far as they will go in Garbha Pindasana before losing most of it in Kukkutasana.
Upavista Konasana is pure relief for the legs and hips after all the Padmasana work. I had to look up the instructions for the next pose Akarna Dhanurasana - I knew it looked like a bow and arrow and had a picture in my head of the bent leg pulled back ready to fire. When I looked it up in Light on Yoga I found that in the final pose, both legs are straight. You pull one leg back first, hold it for a few seconds, then straighten it upwards into the final pose.
I gave it a go, struggled on both sides and got a rudimentary replica of the final pose on the first side and a fall over sideways on the second side. Funny and frustrating at the same time, but a good pose to work on over the next few months.
Baddha Konasana, Marichyasana 3, Ardha Matsyendrasana.
Followed by another set of backbends: I did Salabhasana (Locust) and Dhanurasana (Bow) , then limped to the finish line with Parsva Dhanurasana.
I'd barely made it.
What a marathon this practice was. It felt like 4 hours.
I stood up for Uttanasana, the final pose, (a final bow to silent applause?) and just hung there for a while, in a yoga haze. Then I sat in a half padmasana and counted heatbeats for Nadi Sodhana Pranayama: inhale left for 8 beats, hold for 4, exhale right for 8 and hold for 4. As my heart slowed down the length of the inhales, exhales and retentions slowed down. Much prefer to use heartbeats for counting than an arbitrary count imposed on the body. Heartbeats connect the breath organically to the body.
I made an effort to get up, turn off the lights and find a couple of blankets for a good long Savasana - very necessary to allow all the changes to be absorbed into my physical psyche.
And how did I feel when I finally got up and went about my business for the night?
Electrical nerve shocks were pricking my lower spine and hip joints, my eyes felt burned out (probably from the extended inversions), I was temporarily crippled, and exhausted.
An hour later I was normal again...just tired...and I slept very lightly.
I've definitely moved on to the Week 31-35 sequence now and look forward to exploring it and fleshing it out more, but I probably won't describe this practice in such detail as I dip into it over the next few months.
My period started after tonight's practice so no inversions for a few days.