“You would also do well to remember that what I say and how you perceive what I say can be completely different depending upon your awareness of yourself and the level of skill you have attained.”
Miyamoto Musashi translated by Stephen F. Kaufman

The Martial Artist’s Book of Five Rings

Asana Gradient: Parsva Uttanasana

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Gradient Documentation Started: Feb 2, 2020. Therefore, the timeline preceding this date is not precise, it is based on partial documentation and partial recollection.

1: Spring 2016 – Re-introduction

When, early in my practice, I arrive at Parsva Uttanasana – flank forward bend – I feel like I am fully stepping into practice. It was added to my current practice in spring 2016. Before it come gentler movements, mostly symmetrical, that awaken and stretch my body – they tell me where I am. Parsva Uttanasana begins to tell me where I may be going today.

I believe I started it back in 2016, with a repeat 2 + stay 2 structure. It was demanding physically and my breath was probably around 8.0.8.0.

Gradually the posture developed both in breath and body. I felt:

  • a strengthening in my core, my spine and my legs.
  • improved flexibility in my spine – able to bend down further.
  • softening in my shoulders.

The combination of softness in my shoulders, strength in my spine and length of breath gave me access to feel and work on lengthening my spine as an active stretching vector.

Over time I was also able to introduce short B.K. (after the exhale) holds.

2: Spring 2018 – Sound

I think this transformation coincided with the initiation of my chanting education. Sound was added to the posture. Initially an “ã” sound on every exhale. Then at some point, again echoed by my chanting practice, I came to use two different sounds:

I felt that the addition of sound required core strength, stability and length of breath I had available to me. The addition of sound provided another subtle mirror for me and invited to me further lengthen my exhale. I recall that the exhale while staying in the posture took on symmetrical structure: each of the three sounds continued for a (subjective) count of 4 seconds – for a total of 12 seconds exhale.

I believe that the extended exhale gradually effected the inhale which lengthened to a stable 8 – 10 seconds.

3: Winter 2018/2019 – Long Breath

By the end of that year my breath was comfortably longer in the posture: 12.4.12.6. I was able to that ratio it well in the mid-range movement breaths. In the full-range movement (going in and coming out of the posture) the breath was slightly shorter. At this point the quality and length of breath was affected more by the quality of my attention. If my attention wavered, so did the quality and length of breath.

The extended breath also led me deeper into the posture. By now my spine was arching down all the way so that my head touched my knee (or just slightly beneath it). I started to place more attention on abdominal contraction while down. I also started to make the front-leg more active … gradually strengthening and stretching it so that the knee was less bent.

Sometime during this period I stopped using sound in the posture. When I was in a recovery period I tended not to use sound, to focus more on body and breath. I also went through periods where I felt attracted to silence (during which there were also pauses in chanting). Eventually, the posture went silent.

4: Fall 2019 – Active Arms

In the second set of mid-range movements on each side I added side arm movement. Gently increasing both the load on my spine and on my legs (I really felt it in legs in the beginning).

5: Winter 2019/2020 – Eyes Closed & Long B.K.

I don’t remember when I first started closing my eyes while doing the mid-range movements in the posture. I felt stable while in the posture and closing my eyes seemed to increase my presence and awareness of my body. It also carried me deeper into B.K. holds (holding the breath after the exhale). I found myself exploring holds up to 8 seconds long, sometimes even longer. Again attention seemed to be a key ingredient in arriving and staying at a good B.K.transformationI don’t remember when I first started closing my eyes while doing the mid-range movements in the posture. I felt stable while in the posture and closing my eyes seemed to increase my presence and awareness of my body. It also carried me deeper into B.K. holds (holding the breath after the exhale). I found myself exploring holds up to 8 seconds long, sometimes even longer. Again attention seemed to be a key ingredient in arriving and staying at a good B.K.

I remember, while in a continuous undisturbed practice sequence, experiencing strength and stability in the posture. I felt strong in my core and that gave me a clear sense of center and stability. I wondered if I could move in and out of the posture. I found that I could. Closing my eyes further connected me to abdominal engagement and to the lengthening of the spine while moving in and out of the posture.

So in this transformation, the physical structure of the posture remains similar to the previous with changes in breath and attention.

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