Monday, July 25, 2011

Yoga and Bhoga in the City of Lakes

Mysore with Matthew Sweeney (MS) this morning was intense and good. I did full Primary and Intermediate up to Ardha Matsyendrasana. I got some good adjustments, and learnt a few things today from MS:

(1) In the Suryas, I have always taken considerable pride in being able to lift my body off the ground from trini position with straight legs to kind of float back into chatvari. This morning, however, MS stopped me in the very first Surya A, and basically told me that I was using too much upper-body strength to jump/float back. This is roughly what he said, "You are doing a dead-lift back into chaturanga, which is good. But this means you bend your elbows too early, which causes tension in the shoulders." So he basically had me bend my knees to jump back, keeping my elbows extended the whole time while I land in plank; only then do I bend my elbows to go into chaturanga. Which of course, doesn't look quite as pretty, since that meant I landed in plank with a very audible thud, rather than softly and directly into chaturanga. But well, I guess progress isn't always pretty, is it? I'll keep working on this.

(2) It turns out that I "sit" too deeply into the pose in Virabhadrasana II. Which causes my hips to go out of whack. Here's what I mean: In Vira II, you want to keep your hips squared to the side. If I sit too deeply into the pose (i.e. bend the front knee beyond a certain point), my hips end up facing more forward than squared to the side. Which deprives me of the hip-opening effects of the posture. Of course, there are some people who can both sit deeply in the pose AND keep the hips squared to the side. Well, I'm not one of them. So MS got me to come up higher in the posture, so that I can maintain the sideways orientation of the hips. He suggested that I should not sit more deeply than I can maintain the sideways orientation of the hips. Actually, I have kind of sensed this issue all along; but sometimes, you need a senior teacher to point these things out to really bring them to the forefront of your attention.

(3) In Intermediate, MS stopped me in Parsva Dhanurasana, and asked me to repeat that posture. He got me to point my toes more and turn the feet inward, while moving the hips forward. This resulted in much more of the backbend going into the front body (i.e. quads and psoas). Which is intense, but very good for front body opening. Ha! So I have been cheating in Parsva Dhanurasana this whole time... who knew? I think this action really helped my Kapotasana: As I was exiting Kapotasana, the front of my thighs were so intensely engaged, they almost went numb!

(4) During the dropbacks, MS came up to me and told me that I have this tight/unopened spot somewhere in my mid-back. Here's the backstory: Yesterday, during the backbend session, I told him that I sometimes feel this twinge in my right lower back if I go into a backbend after my body has rested for a couple of minutes after doing some backbends. This is usually not a problem in mysore, since one doesn't usually stop to rest in mysore between backbends. But I really felt this issue during yesterday's workshop, because workshops, by their very nature, are so start-and-stop. MS said that, judging from what he saw of my backbends, he thinks the issue is probably either in shoulder tightness or tightness somewhere in the upper/mid-back. So today, during dropbacks, he had a closer look, and diagnosed the issue as a mid-back issue. He says that it will take a bit of work over a certain period of time to open up this area. Which is not that surprising, backbends being what they are. What's really interesting is that something that is felt as a twinge in the lower back should actually have its origin in the mid-back. Interesting, don't you think?


Well, that was a lot of yoga. Now on to some bhoga (material or sensory enjoyment). As we might say, "All yoga and no bhoga makes Jack a dull yogi" (I suppose the female version of this would be, "All yoga and no bhoga makes Jill a dull yogini" :-)). After mysore this morning, a few of us went to this local breakfast place for some much-needed nourishment. I can't remember the name of the place, but the food was really good... Well, don't just take my word for it. Here are a couple of pictures to back up my claim:

The before shot: 
Left to right: Me, Monica, The Perfect Ellie, Bill

The after shot (hmm... where did all that food go?)
Left to right: Same as above, plus a little more food in each body.

I guess something needs a little explaining here: Why "The Perfect Ellie"? Well, this arose out of a conversation that took place during the meal. I'll try to reconstruct it as best I can. Basically, the conversation started with a discussion on asana (how many more things can four Ashtangis talk about?). Bill and Monica started by discussing just how central having the "perfect asana" and being able to do third series is to the practice (none of us at the table do third). We kind of went back and forth between the "You can do anything if you set your mind to it and put in the necessary effort and lifestyle changes" school of thought and the Official Party Line ("It doesn't matter how far you get in the physical practice, so long as you breath, maintain drishti, observe the yamas and niyamas, etc, etc."). At some point, Ellie said (probably only half in jest), "Of course you need to get to third (maybe even beyond) in order to achieve Full Enlightenment and Full Perfection!" And then somehow Monica, in all sincerity, started talking about what a great teacher Ellie is, and how her adjustments are so perfect (well, I don't know about Perfect, but having been the recipient of a couple of these, I can attest that they are really good :-)). So, basically, this is how we came up with the moniker "The Perfect Ellie". By the way, if you take a closer look at the pictures, you might notice that Bill is positively glowing; this is doubtless a result of sitting next to Ellie and absorbing some of that Perfect energy. :-)

Well, I guess that's all for now. I'm going to try to see how much more bhoga I can squeeze out of the rest of the day before tomorrow morning's yoga ;-) 


  1. I hope your blog readers know, Nobel, that I was indeed joking about having to get to third series in order to achieve enlightenment. After all, I became enlightened after my very first Surya Namaskara. Individual results may vary, but enlightenment is possible with correct bandha control.

  2. Ah... yes, Ellie, I will definitely clarify this in my next post :-)

  3. Am hungry! Looks like you're learning loads!

  4. Enjoyed reading this Nobel, very illuminating to see the level of detail that Matthew is getting to, seems he catches everything, cannot wait to meet him :-)

  5. Thanks Claudia. Are you planning on taking a workshop with him soon (you said "cannot wait to meet him")?