Thanks for a great workshop (yoga shala / CT -- I was able to do 3 days, and you were gracious enough to sign my dave swenson book after the closing session). Here are a few thoughts, both in the nature of feedback for you and for my own understanding as I continue to process some of the info you supplied. The big takeaways for me were:
1/ the focus on the long view. this is kind of self-evident once you really stare at it, but it also tends to get lost in the shuffle if you don’t stare at it.
2/ the focus on no injury / no pain. same point here. I find that I have adjusted my practice in both obvious (say not pushing in a difficult pose or being more aware of tendon tweaks, etc.) and subtle ways (trying to make it more meditation than exercise).
3/ the great statement: it’s what’s invisible that’s important. this really says it all, and is pithy to boot. with the intense nature of the practice, and the fact that most or all who practice it are Type A to some degree, it’s easy to get caught up in pushing yourself to improve various asanas – so it’s important to periodically step back and remind yourself to focus more on breath, bandhas and ultimately, meditation. or at least point it more in that direction.
4/ the goal of increasing oxygen intake: this is kind of a practical subset of the former point, and provides a concrete grounding and focus for it. it also establishes the gross/subtle link between increasing oxygen and increasing prana. as one of the dudes in our workshop said, if you really concentrate on this, you will notice the difference in savasana – you plant more, so you harvest more.
5/ keeping the lightbulb on: namely, to closely monitor your practice and tailor it to what feels right to you. now it may be difficult to find the proper balance here, particularly in a system that in some ways is so regimented (and it’s hard to think of a system more regimented than one motion per one breath for almost two hours !!), but that is precisely why this kind of meta-awareness is so useful to find a proper balance.
1/ drishti / jalandhara bandha. this was a huge correction, and one that had a much broader application than I initially expected. the clearest application of this is to avoid looking at your toes / scrunching up your neck in paschimottanasana, but instead get length via the top of your head as you implement jalandhara bandha. previously, I had focused on jalandhara bandha only in padmasana and dandasana. now it also has universal application in all forward folds and bends. this is really great, as it ties into the main big picture point of oxygen and prana – as long as you work to generate it, try not to dissipate it. or something like that …..
2/ stamp of approval for alternate positions: in keeping with the big picture points to avoid injury and keeping the lightbulb on (aka do your own thing). in my own practice (roughly two years, but only 6 months intensely), I am at a point where I am just starting to do sirasana and chakrasana, and only with assists at that. intuitively, I had proceeded cautiously with these. it is reassuring to have “the goodhousekeeping stamp of approval” from a master to either bag these, or in any case proceed with caution or with a lesser modification.
3/ chest breathing. as a result of the above focus on breath/bandhas and increasing oxygen, I have noticed that I am breathing more deeply, more slowly, and with increased chest/ribcage action and less in the way of “belly breathing”.
4/ holding upward dog. this is a great add to balance all the forward bends of primary series.
5/ “lengthen on the inhale, deepen on the exhale”. also supremely useful. (I hope you are getting royalties from swenson !!) ……….
the stomach exercises and the 5 leg exercises to open up the lower back are just great; I don’t always remember to do them, bit I find that my practice is smoother and easier when I do.
A FEW RANDOM THOUGHTS
More or less FYI, and in no particular order of importance:
1/ the focus on no injury / no pain, Vol. II. one of your main points got me thinking – apart from some obvious applications like avoiding or modifying headstand, chakrasana, or not doing scorpion after drinking a 6-pack – where the main injury / pain issues are likely to be for most people. A/ particularly when I just started practicing, I had a lot of lower back pain, which I believe was from poorly done upward dogs. I suppose this can be avoided by your regimen of doing a cobra vs the upward dog with legs raised, but this might be a place to focus for people who want to accomplish the full pose – IE, to really break it down how to do this pose properly (IE, chest out, shoulders tucked in, maybe arms not entirely straight to facilitate this, etc.). B/ one area that is not so bad for me, but that I see a lot in class and cringe, is when stiff people try to torque themselves into half lotus, such as marichyasana B and D and ABP paschimottanasana. in short, I think it is very useful to emphasize focus on certain poses (as you did with the marichyasanas), over and above the obvious culprits, where people may injure themselves.
2/ exercises, Vol. II. those exercises are so beneficial, I started thinking about others that might be useful. A/ I am starting to incorporate three others into my routine, standing ones to balance your seated ones: (i) open stance, legs hip distance apart, hands clasped behind the back (as in pasarita padottanasana C), then fold down, head to legs, then fold up and stretch back, chest puffed out; (ii) legs hip distance apart; hands to the sides, side bend right, right hand to knee or below, left arm follows the side up to the armpit; then repeat other direction (this also starts to work the neck); and (iii) just standing upright, doing circles each direction with head / neck (this seems to continue from the prior exercise and I can hear a lot of crunching noises going on in my neck – which feels good and I assume is good !!).
3/ exercises, Vol. III. every Saturday at the shala we have an “ashtanga improv” class – sometimes this is just a watered down primary series, but some teachers really mix it up and try some funky stuff. for me the best part of this is always the hip-opening exercises, and (again, for me) the most useful ones are: A/ pigeon (this one is just great); B/ cradling one leg in seated position (as if you were preparing for janu sirsasana C) and then elevating it upwards and swinging it back and forth vigorously; and C/ in downward dog, raise one leg straight up as far as possible, then torque it back to the other side (opening the chest and getting a good back bend in also). as far as I can tell, pigeon is not in any of the ashtanga series, but it seems an underrated and very useful pose/exercise.
4/ holding upward dog, Vol. II. the notion here is to further supplement primary series with postures/exercises that either balance it out or help open you up. I can think of two: A/ along the lines of holding the upward dog longer / getting more backbending into the primary series, sometimes I like to work ushtrasana into the closing sequence; and B/ along the lines of opening up the hips, sometimes I will throw in a pigeon or one of the other hip openers noted directly above.
5/ bandhas, Vol. II. even an advanced beginner tends to understand (“in theory”) how fundamental/essential the bandhas are to the practice, in the sense that “without them it’s just exercise”. however, I believe it is also true that most people are confused to some degree in their application – and I’m not talking about the fact that it may take years before one can do this on a deep level thru an entire practice. rather, I think there are some points that could use elaborating, as I know it has created some confusion for me (and some others I have spoken to), to wit: A/ the intensity of mula bandha (>> cracking zen walnuts); and in particular, B/ the relationship between mula bandha (MB) and uddiyana bandha (UB). for example, sometimes UB seems to be included within a properly executed MB – do one, get one free type of thing. however, in some positions this does not seem to be the case (like the bends for example, where I find you really have to focus independently on UB for it to kick in). more to the point, sometimes it seems important to separate the two or it will have the effect of constricting the breath / making deep breathing difficult. in particular here, if UB makes the stomach too rigid, this can make a deep inhale difficult, at which point all hell breaks loose and you just have to release everything and start again. so I kind of synthesize this as: the MB is the only real constant; sometimes UB comes along for the ride, and sometimes it goes a la carte; when it goes a la carte, UB has to be modulated on the inhale / exhale to allow full breathing. another way to think of this is the image in swenson’s book (p. 10), of the string attached to the spine two inches below the navel – IE, where UB is not so much a “crack walnuts” bandha, as a limitation on belly-breathing, so there is some flex where needed, but not so much where your belly pops out and you get away from chest breathing. also, when I find I am doing UB “a la carte”, I find it useful to emphasize it at the end of the exhale – to empty the lungs fully – and then relax it a bit on the inhale. or something like that ………
SO: dassit for my ruminations and some follow-up thoughts. thanks again for the workshop, which was instructive, illuminating, and simply lots of fun. it was both a privilege and a real pisser to practice with you, and it is nice to have your residual vibe in our daily practice space.
namaste bro / cheers jg