An unusual way to start my yoga practice, but to get me started I told myself 'just one dog pose', and of course once you've done a Dog Pose, you have to do Uttanasana, and then its hard to stop.
It's Day 2 of my 3 day monthly retreat.
The tent's already filled with mid morning summer heat;, outside strong, gusty, south easterly winds whip the heat around, fighting the sun to prove who is stronger.
An extended stay in Dog Pose is an interesting exercise - as the outer body and gross muscles supporting the pose begin to tire, I am forced to draw on other support: internal muscles, mula bandha, my mental dialogue, and my will - the only ally I have against the primal urge to escape discomfort.
My will arises like a backup rear battalion - very strong and powerful, coming in to save the weary troops at the front line. It forges into battle against the negative diatribe that threatens to weaken my resolve.
After Dog Pose, Childs Pose: not a resting pose for me because of the painful resistance in my lower back and hips. I keep it passive for 10 breaths, allowing my lumbar and hip joints to gently ease open, before moving into an internally active Childs Pose for the next 10 breaths, pressing my knees down into the earth and inwards to open the sacral area, engaging mula bandha, drawing in teh pubic abdomen and actively curling in the tip of my tailbone.
Instead of Upward Dog to counter the forward bend, I do Salabhasana for 10 breaths. the back arch is less severe, but the muscles supporting the lumbar spine are more active. Resting afterwards with my head turned to one side my neck is so grateful that I want to take it further. I do Salabhasana again, this time with my head turned, firstly with my ear pressed to the floor, then I lift and twist my head looking up as far as I can, holding for 5 breaths on each side. Pressing the shoulders away from the ears is essential here to keep the neck long during the twist. Its a new variation that I just invented.
I don't like Vashisthasana much - which is an excellent reason to do it. Kosta seems to do A and B at the start of his led class every week, so I'd like to make friends with it. Vashisthasana A is easy today, my top fingertips press the tent canopy upwards stabilising the balance. I look down along the line of my body and notice my hips are twisted a little upwards so correct this by rolling my top hip forward a little. I've been too cowardly to try Vashisthasana B in Kosta's class opting to repeat A instead. Today, alone in my tent, I give it a go. Moving into the pose requires extraordinary moment-by-moment presence and full attention to maintain the precarious balance while reaching for the big toe and raising the leg up. Once I get into the full pose, it's more stable and surprisingly not as difficult as I thought.
Some standing poses next - practising in a tent I have to choose these carefully:
Trikonasana - 10 breaths. The longer stay allows me to watch how my body absorbs the pose, how it reacts and changes, what tires first, what subtle ways I find to pick up the slack and internally reenergise. As in the first long dog Pose, when the gross outer muscles start to tire, the internal core muscles must become more active.
Parivritta Trkonasana - 10 breaths each side
Virahbadrasana B - 10 breaths each side
Prasaritta Padottanasana - 20 breaths. After the first 10 breaths (holding ankles) my head is on the floor so I step my feet a little closer - that way my head is slightly off the floor aallowing me to extend the cervical spine and create more space between the joints. I intensify the pose for the additional 10 breaths.
Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana (standing splits) would have been my next pose but the tent canopy prevented my top leg from fully extending - had to abandon that one.
Today's backbend turned out to be the preparation for Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana, fingertips to floor back arched, chest lifted up, face looking skyward. This prep is often used as a passive front thigh stretch, often with the forehead to the floor. I tend to do it as a fully active and intense backarch, keeping my lower abdominals drawn in, mula bandha engaged, and the knee of my back extended leg lifted and rolling inward.
Upavista Konasana - centred and upright for 10 breaths. Going forward more than a few inches wasn't a safe option so I quickly let go of that objective and settled contentedly into the semi upright stretch. Twisting to the left and going forward over the leg was an entirely different experience. Descending into the depths of the twisted forward bend changed my state of mind. There's a deep place we can access inside of these poses. When I find myself suddenly there, it feels like I've accidentally slipped through a portal into a mysterious other world. It's a place deep beneath the surface of all fluctuations...it transcends body, breath, mind, emotion and spirit. They are all united down here. This is where we truly experience 'yoga' - the union of these individual platforms from which we operate. The whole self is breathing in unison with a primordial energy down here. All parts melt into one integrated holistic operating system - individual parts are working as one team.
Deep in this state of asana there is real transformation happening. It's not easy to stay there for long. The fire of tapas is burning the impurities. Coming out of the pose you realise something subtle has changed deep in the psyche.
After that an inversion is the only sensible choice to cool down the smouldering.
I move into Shoulderstand with the intention of staying 50 breaths.
After 20 breaths I get tired and want to come down, but decide to lower my right leg into Eka Pada Sarvangasana. I do 10 breaths on both sides then lift back up to Shoulderstand for another 10 breaths - 50 in all.
In the last 10 breaths, my focus instantly sharpened; I had woken up and was hyper sensitive, super aware, eyes bright...
"to wake up alive in the world" ...Jackson Browne
Halasana for 10 breaths
Karna Pindasana for 10 breaths
Back up to Sarvangasana then Ardha Sarvangasana (hands under pelvis and legs at a slight angle) - a nice pressure release after the 90 degree bent neck bandha.
I roll out from Halasana slowly, the weight of my thighs dropping through to my spine; each vertebrae in turn gratefully accepting the acupressure massage. Just before touch down I pause, my tailbone still curved upwards, I work my abdominals relishing the internal stimulation.
Matsyasana would be the next pose, but I haven't done any Padmasana work during the practice so my hips and knees aren't quite ready for Lotus. Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana (half lotus forward bend) helps. So does focussing more on the internal dynamics than getting deeper into the forward bend. I pull up energetically throught the inner seam of my extended leg and press the bent knee down drawing it inwards at the same time. I extend fully up through my spine and out through my crown making a long line.
After the second side I just pull the other leg into full lotus and lay back for Matsyasana. It's the opposite leg position to what is done in Ashtanga (on one side only) - I have right over left which is the harder side for me. Good to do this pose regularly on the 'wrong' side to create more balance in the body anyway so when I come out of the Matsyasana back arch I rest in Supta Padmasana for a while (on one side only).
I close my eyes and instantly notice the sun heat beaming through the tent down onto my yoga body.
The wind is still relentless, beating and whipping the tent.
Savasana darkens as the clouds momentarily cover the sun and the light filtering through my eyelids dims.
My body is literally humming with energy.
Padmasana to finish.
I am eternally grateful to have learned yoga, to focus my mind in Now, to cleanse and energsie me, to bring me in touch with my physical body, my energetic body, my divine body, into balance and union.
Later I do a few passive poses: a backbend over a rolled up blanket pulls open internal muscles that stubbornly want to stay clenched to protect my spine. I am gently persuasive. I stay for a few minutes with the blanket in one spot then roll a centimeter down and stay a few minutes there, roll another centimeter down etc...etc... So much unconscious tension stored in my lower back, and I'm sure this affects my psychological state. Or perhaps its vice versa: psychological blockages are manifesting in my lumbar...