Sri K Pattabhi Jois said, "Yoga is 99 percent practice, one percent theory." This blog is a resource to explore the one percent theory and to inspire you on the mat.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Should a 'pitta' (fiery) type do Ashtanga Yoga?

Greetings! for this weeks post I answer a question that someone sent me about the compatibility of a fiery temperament and ashtanga yoga. Enjoy!

Hi David, My name is Emily, I am newly recommitted ashtanga practitioner and pharmacy school student in Salt Lake City. I have been lightly studying Ayurveda and yoga for 6 and 12 years respectively. I am always reading suggestions that pittas should do a cooling practice rather than such a heat inducing
practice such as ashtanga. What are your thoughts on this? I have tried many styles of yoga with several teachers, but I am always drawn back to this self-practice.

Thank you for your message Emily.

I think that idea about pitta's needing to avoid heat inducing practices such as Ashtanga is largely bunk. You'll have to pardon me but I get a bit worked up on this subject. I really do hope my answer helps you. I don't think enough people realize what kind of fire, grit and intensity it takes to crack the small self open and access the hidden treasure of fearless freedom within. There is always someone that will try to contain or cool things, to 'mellow' things or 'balance' them or bring them to the center where the middle ground is. I personally don't want the middle ground. I don't want reason or reasonable. Reasonable arrives and eventually looks and feels like Walmart, Capt Crunch, continuous streams of ads for things that don't offer us an honest place of really looking at ourselves. I say bring on the fire, let's burn this stale, safe, known, fearful place to the ground. Give me spiritual danger, give me the edge, give me something that makes me sweat, makes me breathe, makes me open inside, and feel truly alive. Give me enough fire to face my apathy every day. Give me enough fire to burn my petty mind that continuously spins out just the right type of nonsense to hook me into fear, judgement, and insecurity. Give me enough fire to care more about what's inside me than any other thing. The following is an excerpt from a Rumi poem where God tells Moses: 'I want burning, burning. Be friends with your burning. Burn up your thinking and your forms of expression! Moses, those who pay attention to ways of behaving and speaking are one sort. Lovers who burn are another.'

In order to open spiritually, I believe each of must discover our gifts and strengths and then really use them to the full extent that we are capable of. To me being a pitta type and thus having an endowment of fire means you must use your fire, celebrate and develop your fire and see how far your fire can take you. Of course you can over do fire and imbalance your self. For example you could drive your self in practice, work etc, become hot headed, walk around continually angry or stressed or frustrated, and thus thwart your higher purpose. But also fire might be the very key, the essential element that leads you into creativity. As Rumi said fire is your friend. Can you explore the extent of your fire and simultaneously learn how to balance it? I am a lover of Ashtanga precisely because that practice takes me beyond my reasonableness, further than my neat, tidy boxed up world into a fiery, fluid, earthy world of possibility and insight.

I use a saying that goes: 'every system of knowledge is also a system of ignorance'. This statement applies to any system one might adopt for health or soul work; it says that each system, no matter how wise or seemingly complete will be erroneous and will not, if followed blindly, lead you to the end of the path. Both Ayurveda and Ashtanga are amazing systems of knowledge, but both have their 'blind spot's or weaknesses. And anyone who uses these systems will also have their own system for using them and thus will bring their own set of strength's and weaknesses. However I'm not saying not to adopt a system just because it is also inherently ignorant. I'm saying think and act for your self in accordance with what you experience, discover, and what you're drawn towards. Though experts and 'common' wisdom are important sources of guidance, listen to your own feelings, intuition, and inner promptings concerning the unfolding of your sacred, inner world. If you keep feeling that there is something significant for you within the Ashtanga system, then I'd listen to that feeling. The trick is to get to know the system and your own tendencies and then work at it passionately with soul and creativity.

Since you are a pitta type and you like Ashtanga, you may choose to practice it in a more yin or receptive way when you feel like it-- for instance don't practice in too hot of a room or in the sun or in the middle of the day. Do less vinyasa between seated postures or hold postures longer. Finishing postures are known as 'cooling' so you could spend more time with them. Also it could be helpful to keep your brain passive and relaxed while practicing. In short, there are many things you can do to decrease fire in practice, learn what works for you day by day. Hari Om! David

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Asana Kitchen: Floating in Surya Namaskara

For this weeks post I'm introducing a new section called: 'The Asana Kitchen'. In it I'll explore the intricacies and problems related to asana and the physical practice. In order to make it more useful to you, I'd like to hear from you, write me or send me a video of a posture or a related aspect of practice that you would like some insight into. Recently I received this question: "I would like to be able to do that straight-leg jump to standing in Namaskara A and B, as shown but not really taught by John Scott in his video. You know how you and John Scott can finish the last part of the Namaskara by jumping to standing -with straight legs? I want to learn that. Do you have any advice or vid clip training?
Mahalo plenty as ever for everything,
Scott M
Redmond USA

See the video and look at the review notes below for my answer. Enjoy! David

Written notes for 'floating and getting the classic ashtanga yoga flow look and feel in your practice.

1) Intensive regular practice is essential to building the type of strength necessary to 'float'. Really use the video exercises presented in this post. You may have to practice the rocking exercise over a period of months to gain the necessary strength to see results. Keep contemplating the concepts that the exercises are based on; concepts such as lifting up the belly to create a distinct uddhyana bandha action, and the role of rhythm and breath in creating flow.

2) While setting up your jump from down dog orient on stretching back (away from the direction you are going to jump) and orient on the out Breath. As you lengthen back and crouch, study the movement of the diaphragm and the connectedness between diaphragm and the accessory muscles involved in exhaling. These accessory muscles reach down into the legs, pass through your center deep within the pelvis, travel along the front of the spine, and up into the upper torso. When you crouch can you feel this network of muscles as web like, integrated, guiding your exhalation and preparing your body for dynamic action? Each breath can potentially bring tone to and activate your core muscles. Once activated these foundational muscles enable you create slow motion flow during practice.
Additionally, during the set up activate the upper body in opposition to the direction and action of the belly and hips. The hands press down into the earth and forward away from you. The arms lengthen and tone in order to make ready to bear your weight.

3) When you work with ujjayi during inhalation by narrowing the glottis, you create resistance to the in flow of breath. This resistance causes the breath to lengthen, become smooth, and to flow evenly. These are exactly the qualities you want to cultivate in your leap from down dog to standing. as you spring forward inhale and 'float' your legs and feet under you by creating just enough muscular resistance through the arms.

4) When you approach the landing, The ability to 'float' is enhanced by sensing the arrangement of your bones. Use your mental power to kinesthetically orient your self within and feel the support of your skeleton. From the set up in down dog through the feather light landing with straight legs, sense that the skeleton has it's own unique rhythm. Cultivate movement that flows from your skeletal rhythm, movement that enables your bones to better support your posture.

5) Don't underestimate the power of imagery for helping you to achieve physical results; experiment with the idea: 'if you can picture it clearly you can do it'.