“Do not waste time idling or thinking after you have set your goals.”
Miyamoto Musashi translated by Stephen F. Kaufman

The Martial Artist’s Book of Five Rings

Inhale Open Exhale Close

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When my teacher first introduced me to asana practice with coordinated breath and movement, I experienced intense resistance in mind and friction in body . It felt more difficult then free movement (which it is), it felt like it was limiting my physical abilities (which initially it was, but that changed over time) and it was sometimes confusing –  when to inhale and when to exhale? The confusion led to an agitated practice (my mind was racing to figure out what to do).

There is a simple rule of thumb which helps 99.9% of the time:

Movements of expansion and opening take place on the inhale
Movements of contraction and closing take place on the exhale

Apanasana is an easy asana to witness & experience this idea. On the inhale the knees move away from the chest in an opening movement. On the exhale the knees are brought in closer to the chest in a closing contraction.

apanasana

Cakravakasana is a slightly more subtle example.  Watch the front side of the torso – the abdominal and chest areas. On the inhale, when the back is hollowed, the front side of the body is open and expanding. On the exhale, when the back is arched, the front side of the body is closed and compressed.

cakravakasana

You may want to try these and other asana with coordinated breathing to experience this idea of opening on the inhale and closing on the exhale. Do each posture a few times with a focus on the ideas of open and close and see how that is reflected in your movement.

Finally, to appreciate the natural alignment of this coordination between breath and movement, you can try to reverse the breathing, switch the inhale and the exhale and see what happens!

So the next time you are practicing asana and are not sure if you should be inhaling or exhaling, observe the movement. If it is an opening & expanding movement you should be inhaling. If it is a closing & contracting movement you should be exhaling.

Posted in Asana, Breath, Yoga | You are welcome to read 2 comments and to add yours

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-11-29

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  • tears: http://bit.ly/6mfjip #
  • breakfast: http://twurl.nl/ptssh7 #
  • I can't make your doubts about me go away, I can go away for you #
  • image for today at RedBubble: http://twurl.nl/2z772y #
  • next up in #yoga #asana – working the legs: http://bit.ly/5P3Fpz #
  • agitated energy today, moving through time with care #
  • careful has threatening undertones, full of care has loving ones #
  • @reBang I would love to hear from you – iamronen[at]iamronen.com in reply to reBang #
  • @buffdesign hello Loyd, (how) can I contact you to discuss ID project? (referred 2 u by @raymondpirouz) #
  • come see an inspiring exhibition in Tel-Aviv and, if u r in the area, to say hello: http://bit.ly/58DxfG #
  • sometimes the fireplace burns steady for a long time, other times it's really high maintenance #
  • I am looking for Randy from Ojai California… please read and pass on: http://bit.ly/4Kvlff #
  • פעם אחת בעברית וזהו – לא אציק לכם שוב: תערוכה של אמנית מעוררת השראה http://bit.ly/58DxfG #
  • @crowfer thank you :) and a good day to you in reply to crowfer #
  • RT lousy opening text followed by a plethora of great resources via @ronenk intro to Web Usability http://bit.ly/5SB6en #
  • after many months I visited the studio – and came out with thoughts on searching: http://bit.ly/6cYb75 #
  • distractions can be very supportive when practicing meditation – they are so easy to focus on… #
  • irony: the only obstacles left to leaving Windows completely are Apple:iTunes & Adobe:Photoshop+Lightroom #
  • another #yoga #asana – this time cat-posture: http://bit.ly/7QBJBK #
  • איכות חיים זה קנקן תה שיושב על הקמין – כל הזמן חם והטעם הולך ומשתפר מכוס לכוס #
  • great example of Yoga (integration!) in business leadership: It’s not really a “versus,” it’s an “and.” by @photomatt http://bit.ly/7iWx0m #

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Posted in About, Twitter Updates | You are welcome to add your comment

Correct Effort in Yoga Asana

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When practicing Asana how do you know how far you can go? How can you approaching your limits without pushing or crossing them? How can you practice without injuring yourself (I’ve heard way to many stories of unjustified Yoga injuries)? Have a quick look at some of the posture descriptions and see what is one of the underlying threads – it’s there in plain sight!

Your breath is your most intimate Yoga teacher – it is a pure reflection of you and only you can hear what it has to say. Your breath reflects your efforts, your pains, your feelings, your focus, etc. It quickly reflects changes even in the unconscious mind. Ujjayi breathing gives your breath a voice – the hissing sound it creates is a direct channel of information at your service.

Listening to your breath

Incorporate Ujjayi breathing into your physical practice. First practice it in a neutral body position. Get familiar with the hissing sound of the breath in this neutral position. When you use it in asana it may change. When effort increases the breath usually become shorter and the hissing sound will become louder and more coarse.

When your Ujjayi breath becomes erratic and inconsistent you can no longer contain the practice you are doing. You are over-doing. But, and this is a very interesting experience, when you think you can’t go any further but your Ujjayi breathing is steady and calm you can continue and will be able to contain additional effort. Experiencing this for the first time can be an eye-opener. Often times, the mind experiences inhibition before the body and the breath do – the mind puts on the breaks expecting a collision that hasn’t and may never occur.

Processing the information

Assuming your breath-teacher is whispering in your ear (or throat in this case) – you need to have time to assimilate the information. You need to be still. One way to create this space is by enhancing your relationship with Ujjayi breathing by placing the movement inside the breath. This will create a space of stillness between every inhale and exhale. Each such junction is a space of transformation – in which one part of the breath is completed and another begins – the direction of breathing is reversed. If tensions have accumulated in your practice, they will be revealed in these junctions. If you’ve pushed too far on the inhale you may find it difficult to begin a soft exhale. If you’ve pushed too far on the exhale you may find that your inhale is sudden and that you are gulping up air to compensate for over-exertion.

Acting on the information

Now that you have this wealth of information what can you do with it? Change your practice. Make this round your last, do a softer variation of the posture, change your focus for the posture, stay longer, stretch further, stop and let the breath settle – there are many things you can do. You can make such changes tomorrow or next week (the next time you practice) but you can also make them right now.

To do this you will need more refinement and more space to change your intentions. One way to do this is to place the movement inside the breath and the breath inside your intentions. This creates a space and time in which both the body and the breath are still. Only attention continues to move and it can make choices that alter the practice.

When to begin?

An asana practice is usually made up of sequences of postures. A question you should ask yourself before any sequence and any asana is “am I ready?”. You should approach every single posture with readiness in the body, in the mind and in the heart. Luckily the breath provides a concise and integrated view of the entire system. My teacher has summed this up in a wonderfully simple observation: you are ready when the breath is no longer demanding, instead it is at your service.

Off-the-mat

We don’t often bend and twist into ridiculous-looking postures when we are away from the mat – at the office, walking down the street, socializing. We do make many transitions during the day and we do immerse ourselves in activities that require effort and focus. It is not the postures of Yoga that we take with us off-the-mat. It is the qualities of attention and practice that continue to move inside us and manifest off-the-mat.

Take time to arrive. Take time to see if you know what you intend to do, if the conditions are right and if you are prepared. Take time to observe yourself in action. Take time to make adjustments when adjustments need to be made. When meeting other people take time to observe them arriving and to making a connection. Create spaces.

Posted in Asana, Breath, Yoga, Yoga & Life | You are welcome to read 1 comment and to add yours

Yoga Asana: Cakravakasana

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Cakravakasana (read as Chakravakasana) is the cat-posture. This simple-looking posture took me years to appreciate and perform adequately. though the range of motion is small, it is a very dynamic posture because it has a potential to move the entire spine. As you inhale hollow the back, arching it downward, as you exhale round the back – arching it upward. In the end it’s that simple, but there’s more then meets the naked eye.

cakravakasana

Let’s look at one possible starting position – with a rounded back. Make sure that your hips are located behind the knees – far enough so that your hands are placed very lightly on the floor, with almost no weight on them. You can test this by trying to lift your arms – you should be able to lift them without falling forward. Your arms should be very soft – starting from the shoulders, elbows and through to the hands on the floor. The back should be stretched evenly – as if you were trying to equally separate all the vertebrae from one another.

cakravakasana_placement2

From this position (downward facing cat) begin inhaling as you begin to move your back, working from the upper back gradually towards the hips – moving each area of the back separately (instead of moving the entire back all at once). First there should be movement in the shoulders and upper back expanding and opening the chest, then the mid-back, the lower back and finally the hips roll out. The neck can be slightly stretched and raised at the end of the movement. Which brings us to upward facing cat.

cakravakasana_placement1Upward facing cat has an opposite form in the back, but similar qualities in the periphery. The arms should still be soft from shoulders to the hands. The hips should still be behind the knees, though slightly forward with more weight placed on the hands (weight should be distributed equally between the arms and the legs).

From this position begin exhaling and this time the movement is in the opposite direction, from the hips to the upper back. First the hips should roll back, then the lower back begins to round, then the mid-back and finally the upper back and all the way to the neck – as the head gets tucked back in as you arrive at downward facing cat again.

Have another look at the animation at the beginning of this post and try to identify some of the subtle aspects. Cakravakasana is an opportunity to experiment and experience movement throughout the entire back. It is preferable to get a little movement in many placed instead of a lot of movement in only a few places. It is a posture of subtle discovery.

Posted in Asana, Yoga | You are welcome to read 3 comments and to add yours

Searching

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I was a guest in Shahar’s studio this week. I attended a performance practice session – students prepared for short performances. I believe that for most of them it was a first time – and they all chose to do solo performances. After the performances, as we were sitting in a circle talking about the experiences, this image came to me. I sensed that during most of the performances there were two recurring themes: (1) there was content – a flow of creative information; (2) there was a lot of searching.

stopsearching_thin

It was interesting that both of these qualities were present regardless of the quality or quantity of creative content. Searching was happening both when there was a little/specific content and much/diverse content.

stopsearching_thick

There is something about searching that seems to distract from the present. It seems to be an action of looking away – diverting attention from what is present to what may soon come, or what we wish was there. In the performances it manifested as fleeting moments in which there was a connection – as if the searching movement was dancing around and only occasionally meeting what was present.

This sent me back to an idea of “Grazing” that came up during the first Orchard Labs project. The idea of Grazing offers a different perspective on searching – it makes searching an event & material in it’s own right. Grazing is finding searching! Grazing collects and focuses movement and brings it into the present – it establishes a connection to the creative flow of materials that is always there.

stopsearching_graze

Maybe this is one aspect of practice? Slipping in and out of this connection which changes and evolves over time? Recalling my diverse experiences in working with Shahar (as a participant and an observer) – I have a feeling that there is another magical aspect of this dynamic process. It seems that when a connection is formed, the field of creative materials actually expands. When this happens the quality of searching transforms into a quality of choosing. Where there was once a trickle that was hard to find there is now an overwhelming flood.

stopsearching_expand

I have felt this with the camera in hand:

  • I have experienced resistance to raising the camera when witnessing a performer searching.
  • I have experienced curiosity emerging inside me when witnessing a performer’s searching turn into grazing and specific materials begin to appear. For me these are special moments – they are almost prophetic – there is a buzz in the air that tells me that magic is about to happen.
  • I have experienced peace when witnessing a performer completely immersed in a creative flow. These moments are so special to witness – that I have much less interest in seeing the resulting images then experiencing them.
  • I have experienced bliss – when partaking in this process and feeling that it is not me that is taking the images – that I am an instrument in the hands of a higher force. That I am no longer searching for or connected to this creative flow, but rather that I exist in it and it is guiding me, moving my body, changing focus and releasing the shutter.
Posted in Photography | You are welcome to add your comment