Asana, Pranayama, and Yoga Practice

Discussion of physical aspects of yoga (on and off the mat)

Playlist for Hanumanasana Workshop

Many thanks to all who came out, got deep into their practice, and gave support to the Seva Foundation and the Willow Street kula.  Per T’s request, here’s the playlist for the workshop:

Mountain Chalisa, Krishna Das, Pilgrim Heart

Sita Ram, Jai Uttal, Kirtan

Sri Ram, Shantala, Sri

Veerapuram Dham, Hanuman Foundation, Songs in Praise of Hanuman

Shri Ram, Jai Ram, Dave Stringer, Japa

Rock on Hanuman, MC Yogi, Elephant Power

Hanuman Chalisa, Bhagavan Das, Now

Good Ole Chalisa, Krishna Das, Flow of Grace

Anjani Putra, Hanuman Foundation, Songs in Praise of Hanuman

Enjoy!

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Hanuman — Adamantine

When I prepare to teach a workshop, I usually do a fair amount of background reading in addition to preparing the asana practice and contemplating the theme.  Right now, I am getting ready to teach a workshop on the hidden powers of hanumanasana (See Workshops page for more info).  A few weeks ago, I came across a tattered 1987 edition of an Indian publication of the Ramayana by Chakravarti Rajagopalachari. I was planning to read other works about Hanuman, but thought that I must be meant to read this one.

It is an interesting little book.  Chakravarti, also known as “Rajaji” was the first Indian governor-general of India and a close compatriot of Gandhi.  The work is interesting from a historical perspective.  It was first published in 1951 in Tamil and then translated from Tamil into English.  The purpose of the work was to make the Ramayana accessible to those who were not educated in Sanskrit and philosophy.  Although purportedly for children, it obviously had appeal for a wider audience (the 1987 edition I found was the 25th).  Rather than a translation, it is a retelling of the story, filled with homilies and somewhat paternalistic commentaries. Although because it is faithful to the story it still has the relentless sexism of the original, Rajaji does tell his readers in his commentary that the commonly held belief (supported by the language of the Ramayana, which is regarded as a religious text) that a woman has sinned or is shamed if “a villain behaves like a brute” to her is just wrong.

What was most interesting to me about this particular telling of the Ramayana, aside from its historical and social context, was how it resonated with my Anusara studies.  When Hanuman first battles the demons, Rajaji says the demons “showered missiles on him which mostly glanced harmlessly off his adamantine frame.”  Rajaji uses the word “adamantine” to describe Hanuman elsewhere in the work. Here, Hanuman is adamantine because his devotion and steadiness make an energetically impermeable boundary.  Hanuman is able to love deeply and to engage in battle fully, but is protected from the inside out by his practice and his devotion.  John Friend speaks often of using one’s practice to become “adamantine.”  He suggests that the practice of opening to grace, and then pulsing a perfect balance between drawing in and reaching out energetically (muscular and organic energy), gives us an adamantine core that enables us to be open to a full range of experience without being harmed by negative things.  I have experience myself from six steady years of Anusara practice, how the principles can indeed help me be open, while keeping negative energy from invading my space.

A used copy of this edition would likely have been around when John Friend was traveling in India when he first went to the Siddha yoga ashram.  Did reading this particular edition lead him to use the word “adamantine” in the context of his teaching of the energetics of asana?  I do not have an answer to that question, nor should I conjecture.  What I do know, is that regardless of how I feel about some of the exterior social influences and teachings of the great Indian texts (think how I might feel about the Spanish Inquisition as it relates to the Bible), there is much to learn about meditation, yoga practice, and personal integrity interwoven in the stories.

Other readings:

The Concise Ramayana of Valmiki by Swami Venkatesananda (much more scholarly — the translation you would read if you were taking a university course, but didn’t know Sanskrit)

The Ramayana retold by William Buck — easy to read; like reading a novel-length fairy tale rendition for adolescents (changes the ending to make what happens to Sita more palatable)

The Ramayana — A Modern Retelling of the Great Indian Epic by Ramesh Menon.  Great novel.  Cannot recommend highly enough, but probably won’t resonate as much unless you are familiar with the Ramayana and other Indian epics and philosophy.

The Monkey Grammarian by Octavio Paz, trans. from the Spanish by Helen Lane.  From the back cover:  “Hanuman, the red-faced monkey chief and ninth grammarian of Hindu mythology, is the protagonist of this dazzling prose poem — a mind journey into the temple city of Galta and the occasion … to explore the nature of naming and knowing, time and reality, and fixity and decay.”

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Music for Asana Practice

Yesterday the mysterious beeping was beeping again in Studio 1B.  I have all sorts of approaches to teaching with the beeping.  One of them is to switch the attention of the ears to music.  We flowed to Now by Bhagavan Das (because it was already in the CD player and I like it well enough) and listened to selections from Love Reigns by Diana Rogers during final relaxation.  Monty asked me after class to give a list of some good music for home practice.  Here are some of my favorite “yoga” cds in no particular order:

Krishna Das — Live on Earth; Faith of the Heart

Wah! — Hidden in the Name; Jai, Jai, Jai

Jai Uttal — Kirtan (this double CD also has a useful spoken background piece on what is kirtan)

Deva Premal — Love is Space; The Embrace

Ragani — Best of Both Worlds

Dave Stringer — Mala; Japa; Divas and Devis

Shantala — Sri; The Love Window

Many of these are available at the Willow Street Yoga Center shops.  Most should be available on-line directly from the artists.  Dave Stringer also has other music available for download.  The rest can be obtained from Amazon.  Also great listening is Invocation, which was put together by Ty Burhow.  It is a collection of different artists offering versions of the Anusara invocation.  Willow Street work studies are raving about MC Yogi’s Elephant Power, which is rap music telling the stories of various deities — funny and delightful.

Mostly, I prefer to teach and practice without music, but I was a dancer and find music helps to lead me into heart and body simultaneously.  I find bringing music into a practice session especially helpful when I am having trouble getting settled on my mat.   I do not just play “yoga” music, but play whatever gets me into the spirit of play or relaxation and contemplation as I am moved.  My bias is towards chamber music (especially Bach) and Indian classical music for a late evening quiet practice and for an upbeat daytime practice anything that would go with being outside on a grassy field on a bright sunny day with frisbee players around.  Alice Coltrane is also wonderful if you haven’t discovered yet her discography.

Play what enhances rather than what distracts.  Also, check out the artists when they come to town:  Wah!, Dave Stringer, and Shantala (Heather and Benji Wertheimer) all come to town.  Enjoy!

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Putting the Garden to Bed Sun Salute

Yesterday (latest in the season ever — see interesting articles in the New York Times last month about Thoreau as a climatologist) I spent the morning bringing all my tropical plants inside.  Part of the reason it was later is that I have learned that the orchids and night-blooming cyrius like nights in the low 40s and can tolerate the occasional single night in the high 30s, but most of it is that it is a warmer season than any in the decade I’ve had a significant number of tropical plants.  I also bring inside the lemongrass and lemon verbena (annuals here; perennials where they are native).  I also like to bring in rosemary in a container.  Also, what were once small plants in growers pots are now a huge jasmine and a bay tree.  When I bring all of this inside in the winter, I transform the house into a retreat.  When I bring it all outside in the early spring, my tiny yard is full and lush before the annuals start flourishing.

Once the tropicals were all inside, I cleaned up, tended the beds and containers, and strew some more winter kale and baby spinach seeds (no frost in the forecast for the next 15 days — so I could have new kale and spinach through December; also, some of the seeds will wait and be the early ones that come up during that warm week we always have in February).

Putting the garden to bed has a sweetness to it.  I prepare for next year, but also engage in tending what will flourish best when the days are coldest and shortest.  It is a going inside, knowing that there is a need to go inside and let some things be dormant in order to flourish fully when the sun is bright and hot and calls me outside.

This type of gardening is stressful for the lower back, hips, and shoulders.  Throughout the hours I am gardening,  I like to engage my alignment by intermittently doing some poses, strongly integrating my shoulders, hips, and core:  working strong “shins in/thighs out” I practice uttanasana (standing forward fold), utkatasana (chair pose), and adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog), and maybe even handstand.  It is critical to make sure not just to bend from the knees, but also to make sure you have a good lumbar curve and your tailbone is tucked, when picking up containers or other heavy objects.

At the end of several hours of gardening (bringing the tropicals inside also entails vaccuuming), I need to realign, stretch, and reintegrate, but I’m tired.  I also want to practice in a way that honors and celebrates the sweet inward nature of the work I have just done.  This is what works well for me:

1.  Seated foot massage.

2. Balasana (child’s posture) with arms stretched out, palms, forearms, and armpits lifted.  Inhaling lift underside of arms to strenthen, exhaling soften between shoulder blades to integrate.

2. Chakra vakrasana (cat/cow breathing).

3. (putting the garden to bed sun salute):  Table pose (if you make sure you have good lumbar curve, table is one of the best postures for making sure hips, back, and shoulders are aligned well); Downward facing dog (play in the pose to integrate and stretch the legs and arms and strengthen your core); Palakasana (plank);Table pose; Balasana;Table.

Repeat the series several times.  Add in lunges (coming into the lunges from table).  Add in twists from table, threading one arm through and coming down onto that shoulder).  Add in pigeon pose (with a forward bend).

4. End with legs up the wall, a supported or seated forward bend or two, and savasana.

Enjoy how this practice nourishes and realigns, but generally draws the attention inside, getting you ready to enjoy the inside while waiting for the next growing season.

E

ps While I was practicing, I had a big vat of tomato sauce cooking from the last (perhaps second to last) harvest of cooking tomatoes.

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