Sunday, April 11, 2010

Astanga, Workshop

More Kino notes and observations about the weekend...

Led Primary

Kino’s led Primary was scheduled for 7 a.m., well before the subway runs in my city. My options were: biking, cabbing, or walking. Up until the time I went to bed, I hadn’t made a decision about transportation. Predictably, I dreamt about it all night! *eyeroll*

As luck would have it, I woke early enough that walking was a viable option. I arrived at the school (all of the sessions were held at a private school, midtown) 15 minutes early and set up near the back row (in an effort to be as invisible as possible).

The led class started just after 7 a.m. and it ran for...(wait for it!)...2.5 hours. No joke! (a led Primary typically lasts anywhere from 1 hour, 10 minutes to 1.5 hours) So, where did this time go? Mostly to the long, looooonnnnng holds. Some of the holds were so long that I wondered if Kino was still there (Was she napping? texting? getting a coffee?), then another minute would go by and I would hear her say: “Four...” *groan*

And there were many, MANY backbends (the backbends went on and on...I sort of lost count, but I think there were 7 or 8). I wish I had the benefit of the fabulous backbending workshop I attended later so I could have enjoyed these more.

I rolled three of my Chakrasanas with no fuss, skipped the one after Urdhva Dhanurasana(s) because I was SPENT. I was binding everything I usually bind, even Supta Kurmasana. This was surprising because I certainly wasn’t very hot. I took off my headband at the end of the standing poses because I wasn’t sweating at all.

The temperature turned out to be a huge issue for me (and not something that Kino could have controlled). This room felt *cold*. During one of my vinyasas, I abandoned my Driste and glanced back at the dude behind me - he was all shiny with sweat. Me? I was blowing on my feet in Baddha Konasana B trying to keep them warm.

By the time the finishing poses started (right around the time my teachers were beginning their led Primary back at the warm, warm Shala), I was chilled to the bone. I’m not sure why I was so chilly. I’m hesitant to speculate, though I do wonder if the pace of the class was just slower than what I’m used to. And yes, that Uth Plutihi lasted *forever*

I did get a fabulous adjustment, the Famous Kino Downward Dog Squish. It was great! :-) The best part about it was, after she gave me a final push and wandered off to the next person, I remained totally grounded in my feet.

Backbending Workshop

The backbending workshop was FULL OF AWESOME! If you ever get a chance to go to this in person, DO IT!

I’m not a big fan of Purvottanasana, but by applying the instruction I learned in the workshop, the pose has transformed into a place of bliss for me. Seriously, if I had learned *nothing* else, this would have been worth the price of admission! Purvottanasana has been my nemesis for years and now? I LOVE IT!

This love didn’t quite translate for Urdhva Dhanurasana but I’ll concede that it feels at least 50% easier to me now. It’s as if I took a little ‘strength pill’ or something. It’s all in the technique and building strength (Kino insists: “There is no pixie dust”).

I dubbed Kino’s opening dialogues the ‘Kino Keynotes’. At the beginning of her workshops, she opens with chanting, then gives a little talk. She does this while standing in front of the room, balanced on one leg in a quasi Vriksasana (‘Tree Pose’). She waves her hands around enthusiastically as she speaks, never wavering or losing her balance. After about 7 minutes, she switches legs and continues. Hilarious!

I took lots of notes during the Backbending Keynote (I’m the ‘remedial backbending’ student of my shala, so I need all the help I can get). I also made two short video clips which I’ll post later on in the week.

From the opening remarks:

- Backbending allows us to gain control of the spine. By controlling the spine, we can begin to control the nervous system. The deeper purpose of backbending is to awaken the Kundalini and offer a open channel for that energy to move up the spine.
- Joints can be either open or compressed (stabilized). In backbending, we’re dealing with many, many joints - the vertebrae of the spine and we need to open them, create space.
- Pain: allows us to feel, to move out of compression

The entire body is involved in backbending, not just a specific part, say...the lumbar spine *ahem*. The entire body needs to be awakened! If you focus the bend into just one spot, injuries will occur)
*Every joint needs to have spaciousness
* The legs are the foundation of the spine (read: strength, engagement)
* Lift the lower spine up UP and OUT of the pelvis

(hmmm...where have we heard THAT before? I think it was yesterday: “Our whole body is a network. There is a synergistic effect; the whole body *must* participate”)

Some effects of backbending practice:
- heat
- nausea
- shaking
- insomnia

I can vouch for the first two. I spent much of the workshop sweating bullets and wondering if I was going to hurl.

A few anatomical notes:

-The spine starts at the tailbone. The sacrum is like a keystone, takes the weight of the column of the legs.
-Turning the feet out compresses the sacrum, but when you’re first learning, it may be preferable to turn the feet out a tiny bit, especially if your knees tend to splay out otherwise.
- In order to backbend, we need to open the hip flexors, the psoas muscle needs to lengthen. The psoas starts in the inner upper leg, runs through the pelvis and attaches to the spine. Kino believes that the reason that Guruji specified grabbing the waist in many poses is because that is where the psoas attaches; it’s a point of stability.
-During a backbend, two things can potentially happen to the organs: they can either drop onto the spine like dead weight, putting pressure on the vertebrae OR the abdominal muscles are drawn in (Uddiyana Bandha) so the organs shift down into the pelvis. The latter is preferable!

This last point is important - Kino emphasized it again and again. Kino mentioned a circumstance in which someone was x-rayed doing a backbend and in the x-ray, her organs were shifted toward the pelvis!

Setting up the structure for backbends:

Come onto your knees, then step one foot forward (toes of the back foot are tucked under), like a lunge.

1) Inhale, press down actively through the legs
2) Exhale, tuck the tailbone
3) Inhale, lift and expand the ribs (you can bring your hands on the lower ribs and try to ‘lift’ them up)
4) Exhale, draw in the stomach, engage Uddiayana Bandha

Scoot the front foot forward a bit, but keep the tailbone tucked. Find the stretch in the hip crease of the back leg. Eventually, lift the back knee off the ground, again keeping the tailbone tucked (which will further lengthen the hip flexors).

Once this foundation was established, the hands are brought to prayer position at heart centre, then lifted to the face/forehead, then pointed back over the head, eventually straightening the arms.

Other examples:

For the other exercises and backbends, this structure (the numbered list above) was applied. There was an emphasis on activating the legs first, then working your way up through the body, integrating the body before backbending.

We repeated these steps in:
- Sukhasana (simple cross-legged seated pose)
-Sphinx (Inward rotation of the thighs helps to prevent contraction of the gluteus maximus)
-Ustrasana (Camel pose)
-Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog pose)
-Laghu Vajrasana (I can actually do this pose! Who knew?!!!)


Kino’s approach to my nemesis, Purvottanasana, is so revolutionary, that I wanted to document the steps here, as they specifically applied to this pose. My history with this pose has been VERY negative. I hate it and it makes me feel full-body AWFUL. Applying these steps, I enjoyed the pose for the first time in my life. It was spectacular!

1) Come into Dandasana. Strongly engage your legs, pressing the inner big toe mound edges together and the heels together.
2) Tuck the tailbone and allow that action to begin the lift in the hips
3) Inhale to expand and lift the lower ribs, Exhale to draw in the stomach (Uddiyana)
4) Keep tucking the tailbone and lifting the hips
5) Expand through the chest while drawing the shoulder blades down the back
6) Keep the tailbone tucked, the legs engaged!


Urdhva Dhanurasana:

The final frontier! Following these steps, I was able to come into a backbend which didn’t leave me gasping for breath or praying for mercy. It didn’t feel like kittens, cake and colourful balloons, but I didn’t want to die either. That’s progress!

1) Press your heels into the floor and root down through your big toe mounds. Activate the legs!
2) Tuck the tailbone and allow that action to begin the lift in the hips
3) Inhale to expand and lift the lower ribs, Exhale to draw in the stomach (Uddiyana)
4) Inhale, expand the chest, keep tucking the tailbone and lifting the hips
5) Place the hands near the ears, fingers spread and ‘clawing’ the mat, then engage the legs to come on to the head
6) Straighten the arms, actively move the shoulder blades down the back

(video coming soon!)

Funny moment:

During the closing questions, a guy asked Kino something about Hanumasana. Turns out, he wanted to know how to come into a backbend in that pose.

Kino was perplexed at first, then she said with astonishment: “You mean, you want to do Kroukachasana B? That’s the second pose of the FIFTH series!” She chuckled and said: “First, learn the Primary Series!” and everyone laughed.


Arturo said...

hi Kai
oh, this is homework. it's not possible to absorb in one read. have to come back to it. it's all great, thank you. i really like that information about how by breathing in a backbend, it helps put the organs towards the pelvis, rather than compressing the bones. my teacher here emphasizes the breathing part a lot and says it creates space, and it makes sense from the further explanation you've given.

Flo said...

Don't you love her method of counting... "One, Two, pause...pause...while adjusting someone, Two, Three, pause...Four...Five"

I swear her holds or intense.

Ohh can't wait for the video.
Don't forget to keep an eye on her website because she just uploaded the podcasts from the Atlanta workshop in February so your workshop should be up there soon too!

Kaivalya said...

Yes, I probably didn't put enough of an emphasis on the breathing part. Not only is Uddiyana Bandha being engaged on the exhale (to shift the organs) but the lower ribs are expanding on the inhale.

I think this is what is helping me feel less 'suffocated' in my backbends now. I can breath, so I can hold the backbends longer.

I think I remember Kino saying something like: If you're breathing, there's no room for fear.

"One, Two...pause (have a long conversation about alignment in a pose)...Three, Four...(adjust 27 different people)...oh yes and Five!" ;-)

Thanks for the tips about the PodCasts!