Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Practice report: The Bandhas as the keystone of the practice

Practice this morning was good. Had to get up and start practicing earlier, as I had a department meeting at 9 a.m. Did full primary and second up to pincha mayurasana.

Primary was good. I remembered that back in June, when I had to scale back my practice to primary only because of my injury, my teacher told me that I should add on second series postures only when I get to the point where doing primary has become as easy as taking a walk in the park. Well, I don't think I fully followed his suggestion: I added second series postures back on sometime around September, and my primary definitely wasn't a walk in the park at that time. But right now, I think I am getting closer to that point. I have noticed that when I tell myself at the beginning of practice to take everything breath by breath, and to try not to have too many expectations, my primary is smoother and more pleasant. And so it was today.

Had a couple of interesting insights and incidents in second. I got my ankles in kapotasana today, and I really felt that I had gotten really deeply into my quads and psoas while in the posture. I could definitely feel my quads and psoas while in the posture, and after I came back up, I felt this pleasant "slow burn" sensation in my quads. Very nice :-).

In Yoganidrasana, I suddenly remembered my teacher's advice that I should try to slow my breathing and relax into the posture. After all, yoganidra means "yogic sleep", and it would be most inappropriate to breath heavily while in sleep! The moment this piece of advice came to mind, I started consciously lengthening my inhales and slowing my exhales. It definitely made the posture feel more repose-ful (is this even a word :-))

Pincha mayurasana also felt different today. I had only started doing pincha again a couple of weeks ago, and it definitely took me at least the first few times to be able to find the muscular control needed to stay in the posture without wobbling. Today, something new happened: I felt that I wasn't just muscling my way into staying up in the posture. Rather, I felt that my bandhas were kicking in more, and working to stabilize my posture. The whole posture felt light, and my shoulders felt like they were actually going to lift up into the air, and not simply working very hard to hold everything together. Very cool feeling. I was reveling in this feeling, and probably reveled too much, because after exactly five breaths, I lost balance, and had to come back down!

This brings to mind something that a friend and fellow ashtangi said to me some time ago. She told me that we can think of the bandhas as the "keystone" of the posture. In classic Roman architecture, the keystone is the wedged-shape stone piece at the apex of a vault or arch. It is the final piece that is put in during construction, and enables the arch or vault to bear the weight of the larger structure of which it is a part. Therefore, although it is physically a small part of the building, the keystone actually plays a key role in holding the arch and the rest of the building together.  Without the keystone, the arch, and probably a big part of the building itself, would collapse.

Here's a famous keystone. Can you identify where it's at? :-)

The same thing can be said of the bandhas. Although the bandhas do not constitute a big part of the physical space of the posture, and the action of the bandhas is very subtle, whether or not one engages the bandhas can make all the difference between whether one "collapses" into the posture (leading to strain and injury to the physical body in the long run) or whether one is able to hold the posture lightly and productively, and reap the full benefits of the posture. This is true in standing postures (especially in trikonasana, where collapsing places undue stress on the knee of the front leg), in backbends (think about a light, "bandha-ful" backbend as opposed to a backbend that collapses and compresses the lower back), and in arm balances (compressing and straining the shoulder in pincha mayursana as opposed to lifting through the bandhas).

Well, something to ponder and ruminate about, isn't it :-) ? Got to go now. May the Force be with you.

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