Apanasana is a very accessible posture. If you have very little time to practice – this is a great posture to do. Lying down on your back, bend your knees and bring them over your chest, placing a hand just above each knee. As you inhale let the knees move away from the chest (up to a 90 degree angle between your torso and thighs), as you exhale let them come back towards the chest. Lengthen the neck and use Ujjayi breathing to create space and attention. That’s all there is to getting started with this posture. Some possible focuses for this practice are soft, long, refine & center.
Since the head and torso are supported by the ground and fairly static, most of the work is in the legs and arms. Make sure your hands are placed very lightly at the end of the thigh, just above the knee. There should be no tension in the joints of the fingers – there is no need for gripping.
Gripping tends to occur when the hands are placed too far down the leg, as if holding the knee. This invites tension in the fingers and that tension tends to quickly radiate up the arms and shoulders. Gripping also creates a tempting opportunity to pull the knees closer to the chest – which is an excessive tendency.
Try to keep the legs parallel and if possible close together. Try to avoid overlapping the legs by placing one over the other or by letting them open to the sides.
Apanasana is a gentle practice. It carefully works the lower back. If you stay within your boundaries then you should experience very little effort in the abdominal area – which also relaxes and softens. It is an opportunity to practice a long and peaceful exhale.
Chanting is one of the more intriguing tools in Yoga. In my first years of practice I was uncomfortable with chanting – it took me time to overcome my fears of letting my voice be heard (I don’t even sing in the shower). Since then, I have had an opportunity to learn only the basics of voice and chanting and know only a few chants. I would be happy to learn much more.
It is said that a practice of Asana & Pranayama is an effective preparation for meditation. My experience of chanting is that it can pierce directly into the heart of meditation and beyond. Over the past few days I have re-opened my chanting resources and re-introduced some chanting to my practice. Tonight I also made a short recording and was surprised to (1) thinking of uploading it and (2) actually doing it.
Placing the sound of my voice online feels like a whole new dimension of exposure. Especially now, when I am alone and on some days almost completely silent:
I touched on placement of the arms when I introduced the idea of coordinated breath and movement. I would like to revisit this with some images to reinforce some of the fine points as a preparation and reference for upcoming posts on postures. The base posture for this explanation will continue to be lying on the back with the feet on the floor and arms alongside the body. The movement is simply raising the arms above the head all the way to the floor and then returning them back alongside the body.
There is a tendency to stretch the arms straight above the head when actually there is a better and more effective position. This position is unique for every person, so you will need to find it for yourself. Here are some focuses to help point you in the right direction. You are looking for a position in which the arms are placed completely on the floor – something like this:
The first thing to focus on is your elbows – you want to get the elbows on the floor. It you insist on stretching your arms too far you may find that your elbows are raised from the floor. Avoid this by releasing the shoulders and bending your arms enough to enable your elbows to settle on the floor.
Next check your fingers – all 10 of them (count – you’d be surprised how much the mind is willing to cut corners). They should be stretched flat on the floor – all 10 fingernails should be touching the floor.
Finally bring attention to the backs of the hands. They too should be placed flat on the floor.
Take some time to find the correct place for your arms. You may find that your position is far from straight arms – this is fine. Practice from your position and your posture will improve. Over reaching will create strain, stiffness and deplete your energy – leaving your body and consciousness with very little space for observing, learning and improving.
Here is a simple practice sequence for assimilating this:
Lay on your back, feet on the floor and place the arms above your head – remain in this position exploring until you find your position.
Add Ujjayi breathing – and remain static – feel the affect of the breath on your selected position for 8 breaths.
Return the arms alongside the body – begin a dynamic practice – using Ujjayi breathing – inhaling as your move the arms to your selected position, exhaling as you bring the arms back alongside the body – repeat this 8 times.
Sit on your knees with a straight back – repeat the movement another 8 times with Ujjayi breathing. Be attentive to the position of the arms – there is no floor to provide a reference.
Stand up, feet together, arms alongside the body – and again repeat the movement 8 times with Ujjayi breathing.
Correct arms position is a healthy habit to form early in your practice – it will resonate with many (if not most) of the postures you will practice in Yoga. Unlearning an incorrect position will take much longer and will limit the effectiveness of many postures.