Yoga practice today was in two parts and they couldn't have been more different.
A short half hour practice this morning before work was fast, intense and wild - 5A + 3B Sun Salutes, Pada Hastasana, Trikonasana, Ardha Chandrasana, Ardha Baddha Padma Padmottanasana, Handstand at the wall, Pincha Mayurasana at the wall, Shoulderstand, Halasana, Urdhva Dhanurasana.
It was fast because I had a strong Ujiyya breath leading the way.
It was intense and wild because I didn't bother preparing for any of the poses; I made no excuses and just launched into them; each pose was unique and stand-alone - not a preparation for the next pose nor an extension of the last pose. Each pose felt like a separate primary colour, no blends, no greys.
Evening practice started with Mr Iyengar's Week 31-35 sequence:
10 minutes in Headstand with all the listed variations - the only trouble I had was getting my second foot in place for Padmasana in Sirsasana on the first side – it didn't quite get there - but the second side was easy and the twisted variation with legs in Padmasana was awesome on this side.
I've discovered that the Sirsasana variation where one leg remains upright and the other leg lowers to the floor is much more satisfying when I envisage the foot of the lowered leg coming towards my head rather than towards the floor. Relaxing the muscles around the hip joint helps release the top of the femur in the joint, and this has to be coupled with keeping the whole hip lifted and the top of the femur pressing towards the back of the joint – this helps to make a fulcrum whereby the top of the leg moves back and the lower part of the leg swings forward towards the head.
Parsva Eka Pada Sirsasana is dodgy though, this is where one leg remains upright and the other leg rotates externally and lowers to the side - I have to be very vigilant to keep the upright leg strong like a rooted tree trunk and lift up and out of both my shoulders evenly (my shoulder resolve weakens when my attention is too focussed on maintaining an asymmetrical balance). If I can keep a steady focus on these two areas (shoulders and upright leg), the side hip joint will release the satellite leg down of it's own accord.
18 minutes in Shoulderstand - again I did every variation listed with no problems, AND in the right order. Knowing all the variations that follow the first one, I can't just hang out and leisurely enjoy that first Shoulderstand. I spend 20 breaths lifting up out of the inversion, drawing my thoracic spine deeply inwards and strengthening the upward energetic pull of mula bandha. If I don't do this, the next three 'no-hands' variations are wobbly. But I seem to be nailing these every time so my preparation is paying off!
Part of the Shoulderstand sequence goes like this: I fold my legs into Padmasana while in Shoulderstand (then stay 5 breaths), fold the Lotus legs down from the hips into Pindasana (and stay another 5 breaths) then twist to each side (that's 5 breaths on EACH side) for Parsva Pindasana. THEN extend the legs back up into a full Shoulderstand, change the cross of the Padmasana legs and repeat it all on the other side.
If I've attempted Parsva Pindasana before, I strangely have no memory of it. The twist was quite intense to my side abdomen and I could see and feel it squeezing my intestines and organs. I thought I might come out of the pose with a permanent knot inside my stomach.
In another first since my lumbar injury, I lowered from Shoulderstand to Setu Bandha Sarvangasana tonight, something I usually can't even attempt because Buffy is wedged into my back by this stage. Admittedly I did cheat a little and got down into it one leg at a time (Eka Pada style). The correct way is to bend the knees, keep the chest lifted while slowly reaching the feet to the floor, all the time curving into a deep backbend. The muscles that stabilise my lumbar spine aren’t strong enough to support this slow descent yet, but it's something I can keep working on.
The progress from being completely crippled by a damaged lumbar for 2 years to regaining my current degree of strength and flexibility is an inspiring testimony to yoga's powerful healing properties.
It's been a while since I approached these poses (or this sequence) with such enthusiasm. The long Headstand and Shoulderstand sequence was a joyful, playful experiment tonight. And the more I do this sequence, the more I come to love how it's pieced together. I've mentioned before about the extreme compression and extension of the neck after 15-20 minutes of Shoulderstand variations. Jatara Parivartanasana and Supta Padangusthasana are wonderful follow ons. Being supine poses the back body is supported by the floor which gives some relief; and although in Light On Yoga, Mr Iyengar keeps his head centred for both of these poses, I take full advantage of the opportunity to turn my head in the opposite direction to release the tension and stimulate the free flow of blood through the cervical spine.
Moving into Virasana tonight I noticed a sudden change - my consciousness heightened, my breath slowed down quite abruptly, and a deep stillness descended upon me. Five long, slow breaths here lasted an eternity.
And practice dropped down into the zone.
Full consciousness pervaded the poses that followed - I was really IN them, deeply, intimately, sensually, spiritually.
This is quite an intense state to practice in and not sustainable for too long. When I'm in it, I can get lost inside the poses - like Alice down the rabbit-hole. Not a bad thing, quite interesting...especially if I can keep part of my attention on watching the process.
Janu Sirsasana, Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana and Triang were all diving boards into the deep unknown. Krounchasana was my final pose before a 5 minute Savasana.