Monday, September 14, 2009

176/256 pt. 3 - Posture Clinic, Fixed Firm an On

The rest of the class divides fairly nicely into series: warm-up, balancing, separate leg, etc... I haven't thought of the same idea of series when it comes to the end of class. Instead, I tend to think of the final poses in pairs. First there's the rest pair: Fixed Firm and Half Tortoise. Then there's the bendy pair: Camel and Rabbit. And then the home stretch (pun sort of intended): With final stretching, and spinal twist. The main carry over I see here is that the compression in Rabbit leads naturally into the one legged head to knee compressions.

Fixed Firm -- For those of us with big calfs, Rohit recommended actually pulling the relaxed calf flesh out to the sides to make room for the hips as you go down. I need to try this.

The first controversial point here is about when you should start going back onto your elbows. I've heard over and over again that you shouldn't start to go back until your hips are on the floor. I've taken this as gospel. Rohit says, if you are close to the floor, and your knees feel fine, that's good enough and you can start to go back.

On this one, I just checked the dialogue. There's nothing about getting the butt on the floor. It says that heels should contact the hips. Of course, if your heels and hips are touching, your butt will be pretty close to the floor. So maybe that's good enough. Still, I found this one to be surprising, since I've heard so many times not to go down until the butt is on the floor, or maybe just a hair or two off.

The other interesting thing here is what to do with the back once you are fully down with the elbows over the head. Rohit says the question used to be whether or not you should keep your back flat on the floor. Bikram said that there was no point to flattening the back because it has a natural arch.

Over the years, the "natural arch" of the back has morphed into lifting the stomach and chest to "create a perfect human bridge." This is something that clearly has changed. Rohit doesn't see the point. The main benefit of the pose, he says, is a deep stretch in the quads. By arching the back, you reduce that stretch. I think this is an example of where the practice has developed into something different from what he learned. For me, this distinction is purely academic. It's sort of like asking what's the next thing you do once your head is firmly on your knee in Standing Head to Knee: interesting, but it will be quite some time before it has any bearing on how I practice. And who knows, by the time I get there, the instructions might be different than they are now.

Half Tortoise -- Rohit put more emphasis on keeping the hips down than I have heard before. And even here, I may be subtly misunderstanding something. If the hips pop up and the back curves to get the head on the floor, thats clearly wrong. But I'm not quite as sure about what to do with a straight back.

For this pose, Rohit and Sherry helped people into and out of the pose by holding the hips down properly and guiding them through the bend up and down. Mostly what I learned from this is how great it would be to have a personal assistant, who knew what to do, who could give these little assists. Keeping the hips down on my own still feels impossible. But I've had Rohit, Sherry, and Miranda all assist me going into the pose. Each time it happens, I have a "Eureka" moment, and feel like I finally understand the pose. And then it all goes away the next class when there is no helping hand...

Camel -- The Iyengar people go into this pose differently. They start basically the way we start in Rabbit, and then keeping the grip they bring the hips up and forward and then lean back into the pose. Rohit said that going into the pose that way showed him what part of the pose causes that Camel fear and loathing. He says it comes from the opening in the throat as this area opens up.

This would explain why I almost never get anything like the overwhelming feeling others get in Camel. My neck and throat simply don't bend that way yet. Maybe someday.

Rabbit -- I asked my perpetual question about this pose, and again I got puzzled looks to begin with. We are told to get our elbows straight. And then told to pull harder. So the question is: What are you pulling with? You can't pull with your arms if your arms are straight. On top of this, I never actually see people or myself doing this pose, so the pulling has stayed a mystery.

It turns out that you are pulling with something in your back, maybe the rhomboids. But what you are trying to do is create distance between your shoulders and your ears. I saw a few people doing this, and got to see the difference it makes in the pose. And for the first time I think I may understand what's going on at that point in a way that I could actually repeat.

Seated Forehead to Knee -- Most people don't twist their bodies to the right position at the start of this pose. Rohit had us try the following. Right leg extended. Grab the outside of the right foot with the left hand, palm inward. This forces the body to turn into alignment. Then put the right hand over the left hand, release and get the normal grip.

For a while now I've been more or less hanging out on the right side in this pose. My knee is flat on the floor, and my head very well tucked. But little was going on. I didn't have the feel for what was going to get my heel up off the floor. Here, I got guided into kicking out the heel. It's another use of the term kicking that I did not grasp. I don't think I can explain what I did. Basically it felt like I was reaching for the wall with my heel, while pulling back on the toes. And I think it helped. Its another thing I'm looking forward to trying in a few classes.

Stretching Pose -- One of the hardest poses for me. I simply don't hinge forward at the hips, so my upper back ends up being arched. The solution, as Rohit said elsewhere, is the same thing that gets people to Carnegie Hall.

Spinal Twist -- Two tips I learned here. First, you start with one arm propping you up from behind, and the other is going to lift up and cross over to grab the front knee. Before reaching up with that arm, use it to actually pull back on the knee and give you a head start into the twist. (And its much easier to see what he means than to try to explain it.)

The second tip is not to rush to reach around with the back hand. Instead, he suggested that you walk it around as you go deeper into the pose. This can help keep your spine straighter, and give you some more leverage for the twist itself.

Sit-up -- We're told there is a double exhale toward the end of the sit-up, and there is. Lots of people will inhale between the two exhales. The purpose of the second exhale is to empty the lungs. That gives you a better chance of getting your head to where it's going.

The sit-up should be a smooth motion. Libby said that Emmy has changed her instruction on it because so many people were first jerking their bodies first up to the ceiling and then forward, in a kind of jack-knife motion.

The only other big emphasis was on keeping the feet flexed and heels on the floor. If you do this, you get 14 extra hamstring stretches in every class.

On a self-congratulatory note, I got a nice compliment on my sit-up. I've worked extra hard on keeping my arms with my ears in the sit-ups, ever since my first class with Rohit. And apparently it's paid off.

Final Breathing - (I don't know how to spell Kapulbati, so I put it in a parenthesis). Nothing really new here. Shoulders and upper body as still as possible while still having good exhales. Get rid of excess tension in your mouth and face. The puffed out cheeks, the puckering, the noise making, etc..., these only inhibit airflow which is the opposite of what you are trying to do.

Savasana - Don't skimp. In floor poses, put one hand to the opposite side of your body and spin on it to get to the floor quickly. With practice, this is basically a one step move into savasana, and can get you an extra 3-4 seconds in the pose.

The clinics may have taken less time than it took to write them up. The feeling I've had since doing the clinics is very reminiscent of how I felt when I was first starting. Lots of good aches, and the feeling that things are opening up. Maybe that's just from doing 4-4.5 hours in a row, instead of a measly 90 minutes. To test that, I think maybe I will have to try some back to back doubles.


thedancingj said...

"Mostly what I learned from this is how great it would be to have a personal assistant." HAH!! A++.

I had a MASSIVE light bulb moment with the "pulling" in rabbit last winter. (I had never understood it either.) It came when Emmy told some advanced competitors that in the ultimate expression of rabbit, there is no weight at all on your head, it is all in your legs. As soon as I tried this, I found myself PULLING my head INTO my knees, toward my heels, as my hips went up. I dunno if this will do anything for you, but for me it was huge!!

What you said about seated forehead to knee, "reaching for the wall with your heel" - now THAT is EXACTLY what they are talking about when they say to "kick the mirror" in the standing version of the pose. :)

And one purely academic point about the division into different series on the floor: cobra series is one series, obviously. Then fixed firm through rabbit make up fixed firm series. Head to knee and stretching are both from the stretching series. And spine twist is a stand-alone from the double-sided series. (This info is just based on the way we break things up in advanced series.)

Duffy Pratt said...

I'm always happy to hear new tips about Rabbit. Thanks.

I've heard some of the names for the other series. But I just don't grok (for lack of a better word) why Camel is part of a Fixed Firm series. I guess you could think of that part of the class as the "On Your Knees, Worm" series. But I usually like to take a more positive attitude.

thedancingj said...

BWAAAHAHAHA. That's right, WORM. No, but I can see how those 4 postures - fixed firm, half tortoise, camel, and rabbit - make up a coherent sequence of alternating/escalating backward and forward bends, all starting on the knees, that open up your spine. If you do them all consecutively it feels great. I guess (I grok?!?) that they just call it "fixed firm" series cause fixed firm is the first posture, just like how cobra-locust-full locust-bow gets called "cobra series" instead of "bow series."

And you're welcome - I hoped that the idea about rabbit was at least semi-coherent! I feel like I need to draw stick figures or something...

hannahjustbreathe said...

Such a fantastic, thought-provoking, and informative series of blog posts. Thoroughly enjoyed.

As always, thanks for taking the time and effort to write and share!