Friday, January 20, 2017

"Symmetry is overrated"

I had the opportunity to join Esak Garcias posture technique class followed by a 1,5 h bikram yoga master class in December. I had really been looking forward to learning more about human anatomy and even if Garcia was a new acquintance to me and Bikram yoga is still quite unfamiliar we spent a very interesting and educational day at Tulijooga studio in Helsinki.

Here are some thoughts and some of the postures that I picked up during the day. Just remember that all writing is subjective and Esak Garcia is not responsible for any weirdness concerning the information or postures that I might have understood wrong. This post is not focused on detailed information about asanas but rather on small, interesting and energy-filled information that I felt I wanted to share with you.

Since yoga has become one of the key ways for me to improve myself as a humanbeing and horse person this blog will also have more yoga related writings in the future.

"Yoga is an Indian system to fullfill the highest potential of human life."

Esak started the day by telling us that all physical postures are Hatha yoga.

Ha being yang, the Sun, the masculine and active part.

Tha being yin, the passive, the feminine and surrendering part.

= The unification of opposites.

When we practice yoga we go from ha to tha and back to ha again. Ha is the asana (posture) that we enter and then hold still and breath in. Tha is the relaxation part, the savasana. It is the same thing but different degrees. We need to learn to be strong and relaxed at the same time. And when we relax it should be an intentional and conscious passiveness. A kind of stillness in breathing that is different from sleeping.

When we enter the asana each body part has a specific job to do in every posture. When we start with new postures we can brake the asana into pieces. Once you get all the pieces together it becomes that one posture.

Half Moon, backbend - Ardha Candrāsana

"Backbending is the key to everything else".
1. Squeeze the hands together
2. Contract the stomach, tighs, legs, quadriceps and the perineum
3. Bend body right and left preparing for the back bend. Stretch the sides of the body.
4. Create length in the body and reach up thinking that you touch the ceiling.
5. When backbending arms go back first.

In the backbends you should focus on the center point, the root lock also known as Mula Bandha. The bandhas in our bodies are energy centers. They are more energetic than muscular and are sources of chi (energy). When practicing for longer periods of time we become more aware of the chi and start to feel the chi through our muscles. That is why we shouldn't squeeze the bandhas too hard but rather think of energy as a big ball around us that we contract into our center point, the Mula Bandha.
Sidebending prepares us for backbends. We need to wake up the center / core of the body and at the same time wake up the nervous system. By activating the main points you can then just relax into the posture. The whole posture is much greater than the individual parts.
There is a reason this is not me on the picture. I have a reallyhard-time backbending
(probably a lot of pent up emotions) and am working hard on encouraging that little extra every time.
When we do backbends we should try to activate the whole spine. The upper, neck part of our spine is most mobile and the lower back because it bends naturally from there. The middle back, the thoracic spine has a natural forward bend and does not move well in backbends. There is some movement in the joints of the middle back but not much. Therefore we should concentrate on activating the whole spine, and also the thoracic spine when doing backbends.
When we do backbends and want to go even further we need to relax our but and legs. If they are contracted we are not able to move to the limit of our backbend.
"Less is more. Don't overdo postures.You need to know and feel your own body."
Garcia is showing what parts to contract and how to get into the posture.
Balance poses
Standing Bow
When we are in Standing Bow we should make sure that the shoulder touches the chin and that
we activate our butt and quadriceps. In standing bow we shift blodflow circulation from right to left or left to righ and when the other side of the body is stretching, the other side is contracting / getting compressed. In Standing Bow we are looking for lower back contraction (see red circle in picture below). The contraction gets the heart rate up and should feel a bit uncomfortable. A pinching feeling that is more stron on one side rather than the other.  
Triangle Pose - Master pose - Trikonasana

1. Activate Mola bandha
2. Be careful not to have a swayback (notkoselkä)
3. Turn hips slightly forward so knee is in the right position over the heel.
4. Small spinal twist. Rotate the upper torso to the other direction.
5. Use arm to push knee back.
6. Stretch arms apart.
7. Level the hips.
In Triangle Pose there are a lot of things happening at once. Triangle Pose is muscular system focused, shifting blood flow circulation from one side to the other. When we do sidebends the movement of the hips contracts one side of the body and stretches the other part. In Triangle Pose, the compressed side is on the bottom and the stretchy motion is on the upper side of the body.

Garcia helping one of the students aligning in her triangle pose.

Balancing stick - Tulandandasana
The Balancing Stick pose increases Blod flow circulation from the coronary arteries into the heart. In the asana we depressurize the chest and press / stretch the chest down and hands up. We lengthen the torso and shift gravity down. In the back we contract the Rhomboids (they can be found in the middle of our upper back (see picture below) and activate and squeeze our thighs together. We focus on using our center point to keep our hips level and find a traction of the spine.
Finger pointing at the Rhomboid area that needs to be activated in the middle upper back.

Cobra, Bhujangasana

Cobra is a great asana to strengthen our spine. It is done preferably in a 90 degree angle and we need to use our arms in order to access our spine strenght.
In Cobra we should think of having our shoulders down and slightly forward. We need to activate the Trapezius muscle and shif the center of gravity forward.

In Cobra it is important to have strong legs and keep them there. You can use your arms to get you into the position and the legs to keep you in the position.

Very concentrated students

I really enjoyed this fantastic day at Tulijooga and there is nothing better than learning new things and discovering new dimensions in ones own mind and body. I not only paid attention to strenghtening my core and activating my muscles but also tried to let the energy move freely at the same time. I am not very flexible and I tend to sometimes slouch in the postures. Garcia was very strong in reminding us not to lean on our joints but rather be strong and stable in our postures.
I just love how yoga makes me feel and I could feel this practice in many ways after the day spent with this lovely group of people. As Garcia said we breath more air (oxygen) when we do the asanas, at the same time increasing the bloodstream to different bodyparts, moving the oxygen around as well. Not only do we shift our bloodflow from one part of the body to the other but we can also learn to switch our mind from one side to the other making us more balanced human-beings in general.

Rabbit pose, Sasangasana


As an end note to this fantastic day we were also discussing symmetry to which Garcia laughingly asked if someone in the class was completely symmetric? When everybody obviously kept their hands down he said:

"Symmetry is overrated. Take the heart for example. It is on the left side and is not supposed to be in the center."

More yoga posts on my blog can be found here.
I have also listened to a few interesting yoga podcasts recently:
Yoga Revealed
Yoga Salt
Warmly recommend listening to them.

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