As a Yoga practitioner I have experienced being both student & teacher. As a student I have learned that it takes years of persistent practice to assimilate, realize & appreciate teachings. I have heard my teachers repeat ideas over and over, many times over the years, and I am still in awe every time my experience catches up with their teachings. Ideas can float in my mind indefinitely with very little substance – and then, after years of practice, there is some crystallization and the ideas gain body.
As a teacher I am blessed to be in situations where I resonate in the presence of a student and then make a choice and offer a teaching. It is humbling to realize that what I offer as a teaching in the present will take years of patience and movement to manifest. I am reminded again and again that teaching is sowing seeds. It is then in the hands of the student to nurture those seeds and create the conditions for them to grow and bloom.
As a Shakuhachi player I am again a student. Yet, due to the nature of the Shakuhachi and it’s place in my life, it is not just an instrument I am learning to play, but also a spiritual practice. So, musically I am a complete beginner – I meet myself every time I try to get & hold a note in Kan (the second register on the Shakuhachi). But “myself” that I meet already has some experience as a spiritual practitioner. I am less prone to confusion, frustration and over-exertion.
I know that my Shakuhachi teacher has sown seeds within me. I still have expectations to enjoy the fruits of my practice every time I play, but when those expectations are not met – I do not experience disappointment. I step back from the practice, create a new empty space and then step back in to practice some more… again and again… day after day. A part of me is looking forward to experiencing fruition of my Shakuhachi training – both for the sounds and the silence.
The name Dvipadapitham literally means “two foot support”. It is a fairly involved asana because almost all parts of the body are involved in some kind of movement. The starting point for the posture is lying on the back with the arms alongside the body, the legs bent at the knees and the feet on the floor. As you inhale you simultaneously raise the arms and the hips (by pushing down on the feet), as you exhale you bring everything back – the arms return to the floor alongside the body and the hips are placed back down on the floor.
This posture introduces an interesting challenge when it comes to coordination of breath and movement – since there are two movements happening at the same time. One movement is the arms – they have a fairly long journey to make. Another movement is the hips which have a relatively short journey. It takes caring attention to coordinate these two movements. The arms and hips need to begin moving together and reach the end of their path together – this means that the arms are moving much faster then the hips. The two coordinated movements need to be aligned with the breath … and over time refined … over … and over … and over…
You may find that there may be a natural tendency to compress the neck due to incorrect effort and the dynamics of the movement – this can be prevented by (1) placing the neck in a correct (chin tucked in) position when you start practicing; (2) remaining attentive to it throughout the practice; (3) checking yourself every time you come back down to the floor (making sure the chin is still tucked in and not rolled back).
This is also a great posture for practicing correct placement of the arms every time they reach the floor above the head. You may even experience more reach in the arms – due to the opening and raising of the chest.
The feet should be placed apart from each other – at a distance that is approximately the width of your hips (if you have narrow hips they should be closer together, if you have wide hips they should be further apart). Your feet are your base in this posture – so they should be firmly rooted both in the starting position and as you practice.
Try to avoid placing your feet too far apart, too close together , or, when in the correct position from letting your knees fall open to the sides.
Also try to avoid having your feet too far or too close to your body – a middle-ground is usually a good place to start. You may try a few variations until you discover a placement that gives you good support and good mobility.
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:
click to play
I don’t have the tools to present a proper transliteration of Sanskrit – so this is as close as I can go for now.
ma aham – ahama annam
me I am – I am the body
ma aham – ahama pranam
me I am – I am energy
ma aham – ahama manah
me I am – I am the mind
ma aham – aham vijnanam
me I am – I am the personality
ma aham – ahama anandam
me I am – I am the emotions
ma aham – aham sarvam
me I am – I am all
ma aham – aham aham
me I am – i am I am