2.08.2011

Project Poses

In planning for my classes over the past couple of days, I found myself browsing through my asana references looking for ideas.  In doing so, I not only found the inspiration I was looking for in designing my classes, but also came across a couple of poses that piqued my interest.  Last night, I was inspired to try these poses anew in my practice.  I think I have a couple more project poses to add to the ever-expanding list:
  • Padangustha Padma Utkatasana  (AKA Toe Stand, AKA Padangusthasana in Bikram Yoga)
  • Ganda Bherundasana (AKA Formidable Face Pose)
I came across the Toe Stand looking through The Yoga Bible and immediately oooohed and aaahhed.  Oh, yes.  I would try this.  My ankles could use some serious strengthening, and I am relishing poses with deep knee flexion these days.  My knees and quads want to open up, so I'm obliging them with lots of extended sits in Virasana, albeit with a dictionary between my feet.  It's become my new favorite way to begin my daily asana practice.

So... Toe Stand.  It's not easy.  I used to run quite a bit and my legs, all the way from hips to toes, suffered greatly for it.  Both of my ankles have been sprained at least twice.  As a result, they are not what you might think of as ideally stable.  While yoga has done great things for my run-ravaged limbs, my ankles are an obvious area of vulnerability.  Standing balancing postures in general have been a big help, but the Toe Stand targets the ankles and feet in a different way.  I tried the left side first.  Started in Tree Pose to begin opening the hip, then Ardha Utkatasana, then slowly from there sitting down onto the heel.  It was impossible.  I could not balance on my left toes without at least one hand on the floor at all times.  I stubbornly tried to bring my hands up to anjali mudra many times, but toppled over like an infant sitting on a backless chair.  After a valiant effort, I let it go and moved on to the right side with all expectations rightly demolished.  Alas, success!  The right side was easy, relatively speaking.  It appears my quest for perfect bodily symmetry is not yet complete.

(image source)
As for Ganda Bherundasana, that was completely spontaneous.  I was checking out the state of my Eka Pada Bakasana, as it's not a pose that I hold often, just transition through.  I remembered giving Ganda Bherudasana (the version with the chin NOT resting on the floor) a try during teacher training and coming much closer than I expected, so from Eka Pada Bakasana, I lifted through the extended leg, tilting the hips up until the balance became light, then stretched the other leg up.  To my complete surprise, I hovered there for a few seconds.  Then I gave it a try on the other side.  Even better!  I didn't spend too much time on it, just one attempt on each side, but it was fun to try something new.  It's an exhilarating pose as the body feels completely weightless for a moment, and there's a fear of the head snapping off if the feet were to fall too far forward, but that's probably just my imagination.

And then there are the ongoing pose projects, namely Adho Muka Vrksasana (handstand) and Pincha Mayurasana (forearm stand).  Both are coming along nicely.  I practiced Pincha for a while on Sunday waiting for students to show for my evening class and enjoyed some nice long holds.  I think this pose may be just around the corner for me.  I'm taking a new approach to handstand, spending at least 10 breaths in a handstand at the wall without even trying to balance away from the wall for the first 10 breaths.  I concentrate on the fundamentals of the pose: maintaining the bandhas, exploring the manipulation of pelvic tilt, using the fingers, and keeping the shoulders aligned.  After this, I move a foot or two away from the wall and practice catching handstands without touching the wall, holding whenever possible.  I have noticed that my free-standing kicks are much more controlled after spending 10 breaths in the supported handstand.  The muscles of the core and legs are all ready and warmed to perform their function in achieving balance.  I've been catching handstands more frequently, staying for longer counts.  I think I'm well on my way to achieving my resolution.

While it's fun to have project poses in my practice, asanas to work on and build a sequence around, the truth is that all of the poses are ongoing projects.  As with any art form, the work is never really finished.  The purpose of the practice, if it can be said that there is a purpose beyond simple necessity, is only fulfilled if we approach each pose with the same focus and attention to detail every day, with every practice.  Favorite poses may bring us to the mat, but once there, it is our duty to let go of what we desire and engage wholeheartedly in what we need.



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