One must love the process

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One must love the process and not only the goal. It must be a joy to get there. One must even fall in love with the daily practice. It is an interesting journey to get from point A to point Z. But between A and Z are many tiny successes. Those whose bodies allow to do the poses easily often miss the learning process.

It’s a totally different approach to get to the Himalaya by foot than to get there by helicopter.

Of course I’m also happy when I practice a pose that is easy for me like baddha konasana.

I also embrace those asanas that are a challenge for me. I work now for 10 years on standing up from urdhva dhanurasana. I know it’s possible. My last teacher said I was already able to do it. Then this crazy back pain told me that the path is not only upwards. Sometimes one is in a valley so quickly one cannot think so quickly. After 2 years the journey can continue with a different speed again. I experience progress, when I practice daily. The pain frustrated me so much. My energy got low. Slowly I realize that this back pain taught me something. The first step was to cultivate again a home practice.

The urdhva dhanurasana looks so much better than my very first one. Oh yes, a lot better.

The process teaches stamina, patience. It also teaches to celebrate tiny successes. Set backs are part of the game, they needn’t to be taken too seriously.

The wall gives orientation when I practice urdhva dhanurasana. On the picture I used the chair as an orientation. Working with external clues is very useful.

Enjoy the ride, it could be worse.

Asanas May challenge - I'm in

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Cyogalife has created a May challenge on Instagram. I’m in again. This months the wall is used to support the performance of the asanas. The cushions of my sofa were a great substitute for the wall for pose #1. They prevented me from falling backwards. I could focus on the splits. This was exactly the intention.

He hashtag for the challenge is #YogaWallPaper.

It’s not yet too late to join.

This pose could become my new position when I watch TV.

You can of course also follow me on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ursulapreiss/

Prasarita padottanasana

A new decade has started for me. A new month has started, too. Since I practice at home these days I’m a student of yoga, but at the same time I’m also my teacher. How to look at me from the outside is the question? A most useful tool to give myself feed-back are my pictures. Even a teacher cannot correct everything. A picture reveals a lot. The asanas feel differently as they look. That’s why one must see them.

Within the last decade my forward bending got much better. I still have to work on taking my hands to the floor in prasarita padottanasana C. It all improved, but not at the speed that I wished.

I don’t follow the Ashtanga Yoga method blindly these days. I know that extra asanas, strength training, holding the asanas longer than 5 breaths can help enormously.

The pictures of the past are taken in 2011 and later. Pictures also report progress. They also report if no progress happend.

Last year I went to a yoga class and the teacher told me that I should aim for taking my arms to the floor in prasarita padottanasana C. It became unimportant for me. But after this feed-back I focused on performing this asana properly again. Just doing it is not enough.

Here are my extra asanas that shall help me to make my hands touch the floor finally without the support of a teacher.

The last pictures show the exercises that I practice before prasarita padottanasana. I prefer exercise #1 as I need no chair. The trick is to hold the body up to one minute, so that the body can get used to this position.

A word of caution: The shoulders are a very delicate joint. It’s a very flexible joint. We can move the arms in all directions. It’s also important to build strength to protect the shoulders. Many yogis exercise handstand before they have the proper flexibility and strength in the shoulders. This might lead to injuries. Practice with care.

It didn't happen overnight

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Most things don’t happen overnight. Overweight, a messy flat, speaking different languages, you name it, it took time, often years to get there. Most processes can be reversed, not all. In some cases it can be too late.

Daily steps in the wrong or right direction add up. This is why it makes sense to scrutinize daily habits. They have a huge impact.

I’m convinced that a daily yoga practice betters every life.

Let’s keep practicing.

The gap between the plan and the performance

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Sometimes there is a gap between the plan and what happens on the mat. A plan can only be a guide. It’s not written in stone. My plan today was to do 3 sets with 5 repetitions of urdhva dhanurasana. In addition I wanted to hold urdhva dhanurasana at least once for 1 minute. This was simply not what my body could do today. The idea to work on strength is surely good. It’s also good to hold the body longer in order to give the body time to stretch into the pose. The insight is that I have to create a training that picks me up where I’m now and not where I want to be . To create tiny steps are a good strategy. Tomorrow I plan to do 3 sets with 2 repetitions of urdhva dhanurasana. This is much less. I also want to hold this pose for 1 minute.

In many yoga classes I saw yogis before urdhva dhanurasana lying on the back, waiting. To lift up into urdhva dhanurasana seemed so heavy. I observed myself doing the same. I lied there, I knew what I wanted to do, but it seemed undoable. I think I know now why this was so. To lift up into urdhva dhanurasana required strength. I was not strong enough and at the end of a practice my willpower was exhausted, too. This is why I want to focus also on strength these days.

Strength: To get with an inhale into urdhva dhanurasana and to get out with the exhaling and to repeat this several times is more or less a strength training. The arms and legs are challenged.

Flexibility: Staying in urdhva dhanurasana for a longer time (1 minute or 2 minutes) and walking the arms to the feet or the other way round is a stretching exercise.

Both is needed. Urdhva dhanurasana requires strength and flexibility. One can work on both skills separately as described above.

Also the right technique plays an important role. The hips shall support the movement. A deep inhaling helps enormously to get into the pose. To create length in the body is also very important.

The wall is my favorite prop when I work on urdhva dhanurasana. It gives me orientation when I lift myself up from the floor. The upper body moves towards the wall. I also drop back against the wall from a standing position. One day I’ll surely drop back again in the middle of the room. It’s not the time yet for this dynamic movement.

Progress can be felt.

The final goal is that it’s relaxing and joyful to perform this back bending asana. I’ve been there.

Practicing effectively - the timer

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During the last 2 years I had enough time to reflect on my practice. I came to the conclusion that the method of learning the asanas and vinyasas can be improved. It’s not enough and rather ineffective to hold an asana for five breaths only. If one wants to learn an asana one must do more than this.

  1. I use a timer. I hold several asanas for 1 minute these days. Today I practiced primary. I held marichyasana B for 1 minute as it’s a good preparation for one of the most difficult asanas of this series, which is supta kurmasana. I also held the twist marichyasana C for one minute to balance all the forward bending asanas and I held the headstand for 1 minute at the end of my practice. One minute can be rather long. Scientific research have found out that the body needs time to relax. 5 breaths is not enough, this can not be repeated often enough. When the body is relaxed stretching is possible. One must also hold the position for a while to make it last.

  2. It’s useful to look for external clues. The timer is an auditive external clue. It has much more authority than my inner voice that is counting. The timer is also more precise. Another external visual clue can be the wall. When I stretch I aim for reaching the wall. This will never be possible as the wall is so far away, but the thought alone helps to lengthen the body more than without this external clue. Stretch your body is less effective than trying to reach a wall that is far away, also when it’s only a thought.

  3. The timer also tells me when 90 minutes are over. I aim for a daily practice that lasts 90 minutes. It’s so much easier to have a time frame than to practice till all poses are done. It intensifies my practice.I have no orientation how late it got already when I practice. To look at a clock again and again is only distracting.

To practice before breakfast is wonderful. The stomach must be empty in order to get deep into the twists.

The plan when practicing primary:

I want to hold a forward fold, a twist, my most difficult pose and headstand for 1 minute. The goal behind this goal is to get so used to be in asanas that one can finally enjoy these asanas. It must feel good to be in a pose. Breaths must flow easily. It would be good if the face is relaxed, too. If the pose looks as if it’s a piece of cake, if you can sleep in that pose, you’re there.

I wonder how to get stronger again……

Ageless by Sharath Jois

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Sharath Jois wrote a book. Of course I’m curious what’s his message. Sharath is a practitioner of Ashtanga yoga for decades. In addition he is a teacher with students around the globe. His focus in life is Ashtanga yoga. What does he want to tell the world?

The subtitle of the book is ‘A yogi’s secrets to a long and healthy life’. I think both adjectives are important: long and healthy. Life needn’t to aggravate only because we become older. There are surely methods that make it more likely to stay healthy, but there is no guarantee.

I like the book very much, even though I don’t agree with every aspect. It’s an inspiring book. I got surprised, too.

Sharath writes a lot about food and eating. This is indeed issue # 1 for many of us. In our Western societies more than half of the population is overweight. This comes with illnesses. We don’t know anymore what and how to eat.

How do yogis eat?

  • Do not eat breakfast like a king.

  • Eat one big meal a day, and make that lunch.

  • Keep it simple.

Yes, yes, yes, I agree 100%.

Yogis prepare their own meals. In order to eat healthy we have to. Restaurants don’t offer healthy food. Sharath goes so far, that he and his family also prepare their own food, when they travel. It’s perhaps possible when the chef accompanies you on your trips. For me this sounds not doable. Getting out, eating out is an opportunity to meet people when traveling. Nevertheless I love the idea. There are always alternatives. There are always improvements.

I’ll surely not start eating with my hands.

I’ll also not start drinking milk as it was the habit of P. Jois. It seems that also Sharath likes milk.

His book gives a lot of opportunity to reflect on one’s own habits and to question them. Last but not least what we do on a daily basis must fit to the own life style.

Sharath surprised me with his thoughts on walking barefoot and his thoughts on praying and social connectedness.

There is also a relative short chapter on asanas.

I don’t want to uncover too much.

The book can be inspiring when reflecting on one’s own life off the mat.

Being a yogi is a life style. Yogis sleep in a certain way, they get up early, they exercise being content. Living the life of a yogi might indeed help to get old and to get old healthy. It’s not an empty promise.

I’ll keep this book in my library. I’ll surely get back to it.

Ashtanga yoga primary - home practice

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A week begins perfectly with a yoga practice.

Habits make everything easier. To be honest, my habit to practice in the morning every day is medium strong.

My goal is to practice every morning at the same time. Then it’s done and I’ve time for all the other activities. Seven o’clock could be a good time. I remember a time when I was at the mat at 6 am and I had to commute to a yoga studio. It should be doable to create a stricter schedule than it is now.

Practicing yoga makes disciplined.

It’s a life style that effects all parts of my life. It determines when I get up and when I go to bed. It determines what I eat. I’ve tried a few other life styles, too, but the life style of a yogi fits very well to me. I don’t think that I miss anything when I don’t go to parties till the early morning. I find it boring to sit in front of the TV too long. I prefer to be in bed early. I love minimalism.

I miss the yogis and yogis, but I don’t want to give up my home practice. My yoga practice is adjusted to my needs. When I feel weak like today I do less vinyasa. On other days when I feel strong I add asanas and vinyasa and I challenge myself holding the asanas longer. I feel rather exhausted now, so it was enough what I did.

The week has started. I’m looking forward to it.

Tomorrow I’ll focus on back bending.

How to get into headstand

Headstand can be learned in one session.

Here are the steps:

  1. Proper preparation is everything. Take care that your elbows are not too far away from each other. My arms are almost parallel. This is very important.

  2. Walk with your feet to your body. It’s not necessary to have straight legs. Finally the back should be parallel to the wall.. (Picture #1)

  3. Bend one leg and bring it close to the body. Only one foot is the floor. The weight should be on the arms and not on that foot. (Picture #2)

  4. Jump a tiny bit to bring both leg in the same position. The closer you walked the feet to the body the less you have to jump. It’s a tiny dynamic movement. (picture #3)

  5. There are three possibilities to balance: The thumbs behind the head can press against the head. Breathe evenly. Engage the bandhas. Especially the last point gives a lot of stability. When no feet is on the floor the pose is mastered. Now only the legs must move upwards. This can be done very slowly. But that’s it.

People with high blood pressure should avoid this asana.

Sirsasana is an inversion and a balancing asana. Mastering this pose gives a lot of self-confidence.

For those who are interested in beauty: Headstand is a good face lift. :)

Headstand has a lot of positive effects on the body:

  • It strengthens the core muscles

  • Blood circulation improves

  • It improves digestion and brain function

I think it makes sense to learn first shoulder stand, then headstand, then forearm stand and then handstand.

Challenges can be to try variations and to hold this asana longer. I learned from people who held the pose for one hour. For me 1 to 5 minutes are enough. In order to experience the above mentioned positive effects this pose must be held longer than 5 breaths. One should aim for 25 breaths minimum.

Headstand

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People who don’t practice yoga usually combine yoga with lotus pose (padmasana) and headstand (sirsasana).

In Ashtanga yoga a headstand is part of the closing sequence. At the end of second series seven different forms of sirsasana are exercised.

Headstand can be learned in one session.

  • In the movie ‘The breathing God’ one can watch how B.K.S. Iyengar teaches a man headstand. This man had never done yoga before, it was the film maker. He was able to get into headstand very quickly. Within 10 minutes or less this man got into headstand alone and he could hold it. Iyengar only told him what to do. There were no hands on adjustments. The situation was challenging as the student had a lot of viewers.

  • I learned it in one session, too. Years ago I practiced with the Sivananda people. Sirsasana is the first asana out of the twelve basic ones in their system. They know how to teach it.

Usually yoga beginners have such a huge respect and even fear to get into headstand. It’s not necessary. It’s very unlikely that one falls out of this pose. I fell out perhaps twice within decades. Nothing happened. The folded hands behind the head prevent that one falls backwards. Nevertheless I always want to have space enough in front of me in case I fall. If one falls against a wall one might injure oneself.

The main two mistakes:

  1. Most people who struggle with this pose have the elbows too far away from each other. My arms are almost parallel on the floor. The wrist press into the floor.

  2. Never ever go to a wall!!!! Don’t do it. Fear will become worse. I’ve seen it so often.

There are many possibilities to get into the pose. It’s easier when the legs are bent, when moving into this asana. I’m glad that I can get into the pose with straight legs again, yet this is a bit more challenging.

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  1. step: Learn to get into a basic handstand.

  2. step: Hold this asana longer, 5 minutes could be a doable goal. Self-confidence will grow.

  3. step: Exercise variations.

In order to check if the body is parallel to the wall one must take a picture. The yoga poses feel differently than they look like. A picture tells the truth.

I plan to go to a Sivananda yoga class again, after so many years. I mean they taught me how to get into headstand. Perhaps they can teach me pincha mayurasana, too.

Useful yoga props: timer and wheel

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Ashtanga yoga practitioners start the yoga week on Sundays with second series. Back bending is a focus.

How to practice smarter than during the last decade is often my question.

The timer:

One of the answers is that it makes sense to hold the difficult asanas longer than 5 breaths. Especially if an asanas seems difficult, progress might come faster when this asana is held longer. Repetitions are useful, too. It’s not always possible to get from 5 breaths to 1 minute. I breaths 15 times (inhaling and exhaling equals one breath) within a minute when I do nothing. I surely need more breaths when I’m in a challenging asana. It’s easier to wait for the peep of the timer than to count breaths. It’s distracting. To focus on the sound of the breath and to count the breaths are two different challenges.

It’s impossible to hold every asana of one of the Ashtanga yoga series for 1 minute. It’s too time-consuming and perhaps also not good for the body. My plan is to hold one back bending asana 1 minute, one forward bending asana for 1 minute, one twist for one minute. It’s a modest start, but a start.

This sounds easy. One minute is not long, but when in urdhva dhanurasana one minute can feel like an eternity. Today I left the pose before the peep of my timer. Two seconds only and I would have accomplished my goal.

There will come a moment when the discomfort seems to be unbearable. Then the mental task begins. Mantras might help to stay. ‘I can’ is a good mantra. Only 5 more breaths. Again one must learn to understand the messages of the body. Sometimes the pain is a message to get out of the pose if one doesn’t want to risk an injury. The goal is to relax more and more when performing an asana.

I guess it’s what runners told me: There comes a moment runners want to stop, yet when they get over this point, running happens almost from alone.

Another possibility to handle the discomfort is to move a tiny bit out of the pose till it becomes OK to stay.

Sometimes I want to get out of a pose, because I’m bored. This is often the case when I do headstand. Today I used the timer for this pose, too. One minute was doable and also enough. I would have left the pose earlier. The effect wouldn’t have been the same.

The wheel:

To start back bending on a wheel helps to relax. One can focus either on stretching the front of the hips or the upper back. It’s not just hanging over the wheel. I usually engage my legs. It prepares the body for deeper back bending asanas. Setting a timer can be useful, too. When in an asana I lose the feeling for time. The timer gives an orientation. The older a yogini is the longer it might take till the body gives up resistance. When the body feels safe, stretching can happen.

Timer and wheel are my helpers.

The plan for tomorrow:

I set a timer for 90 minutes. That’s how long I practice every day.

I set a timer for one minute when practicing paschimottanasana (forward fold), marichyasana C (twist), urdhva dhanurasana (back bending) and headstand (inversion).

Breaks make lazy.

Every yoga practice motivates me to practice again. Soon.

Patience

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Whenever an asana works on stretching body parts it’s good advice to have patience. It takes time to stretch. Being overambitious causes injuries. Injuries are setbacks. Sometimes indicating an asana might be enough. It’s better to establish again a daily yoga routine than to force the body into a position that is too demanding. Especially after a break one must take it easy. It is disappointing to lose asanas. As in life there are ups and downs.

Knowing when to give 90 % and when not is something we learn over time. I wrote 90 % because we cannot give every day 100 %. I even read that sports people get to better results when they take it easy.

To hold an asana longer than only 5 breaths will help to advance relatively fast.

What is worth doing, is worth doing daily.

To practice daily is so much better, than to have long and intensive practices once in a while. This might sound banal, but it’s true.

Deepening the understanding of an asana

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The above pose is called paschimottanasana and it’s the first pose of the middle part of Ashtanga yoga. There are four variations of this asana, with each asana one moves a bit deeper into the pose. When it’s possible to bind the hands in front of the feet, one can omit the other 3 variations.

Here are my questions in order to deepen the understanding of any asanas:

  1. What sort of asana is it? Paschimottanasana is a forward bending asana. In this case it’s easy, but sometimes there are asanas which are a combination of forward bending and balancing i.e.. This asana stretches the back of the legs. To stretch the body takes usually longer than to learn an asana that requires the correct technique like sirsasana (headstand).

  2. Are there easier variations? Paschimottanasana works mainly on the hip joint and on stretching the back of the legs. Knowing this one can come up with easier variations with the same goals.

  3. Are there more challenging variations? These days it’s easy to google the variations. The student must decide which variation he/she likes to add to the practice.

  4. Can I move the body 90 degree? Often an asana has the same form but is performed with a rotation of 90 degree. Instead of sitting, one can lie on the back with the same body position. This can make a huge difference. One can also stand and again the asana will feel totally differently.

  5. What is the counter asana? Very often it’s upward facing dog in primary series of Ashtanga yoga. Yet for paschimottanasana the next asana works as a counter pose: It’s purvottanasana. A counter pose moves the body in the other direction, but not that intensively.

  6. How to get into the asana and how to get out of the asana? In Ashtanga yoga this is called ‘vinyasa’. It’s the dynamic part. I prefer to work on the asanas than on the vinyasas. It’s surely good advice to give these two parts the same attention.

Picture 1 shows an easier variation, picture 2 shows a variation with a rotation of 180 degree, picture 3 shows a vinyasa exercise and picture 4 shows a counter pose.

No asana is a stand alone position. Around a single asanas are vinyasas and other asanas. There are counter poses and a lot of variations. Experimenting helps to make your yoga practice to your own practice.

Make your own experiences. Create your own stories. Enjoy.

Slightly overstretched

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I’m slightly overstretched today. Perhaps also not so slightly, but overstretched. The back of my legs complain when I bow forward with straight legs. These injuries are inevitable if the breaks between practices are too long. My experience is that a break of more than three days or even a week or longer is too long. The mind still knows what was possible the last time when I practiced, yet the body adjusted already to another life style and got stiff.

During a practice it’s almost impossible to realize if one goes too far. The pain comes the next day or even later. It’s the same with sore muscles.

When I practiced daily I’ve been never overstretched. A daily practice is the solution if one want so avoid getting overstretched.

The next question is how to avoid breaks. My experience is that yoga must come first. Sometimes I have so much to do that I start working on these daily tasks first. Duties first, I think. But every task lasts longer than estimated. I accomplish a lot on those days when I postpone yoga. But often yoga is not only postponed but cancelled on those days when I switch my priorities. After lunch my stomach is too full for a practice and in the evening I’m often too tired.

What is more important than my health, my well-being? Nothing. This is why yoga must come first. The plan is to finish my practice before lunch time.

Of course exceptions exist: Serious injuries like my SI injury might require to stop practicing for a while. Sometimes other activities must get priority. Yoginis are flexible, aren’t they? To discuss every day what comes first is surely not a good idea. Just doing it without discussion is a trick to start practicing.

I’m looking forward to my practice today. Slowly I’ll bow forward. My body will tell me it’s limits of today.

Setting a timer

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These days I set an end to my practice. Instead of planning to practice primary or second series or half primary and second series asanas, I set a timer. Not the contents, but the time limits my practice. This is somehow easier. Within 90 minutes one can do a lot. Quality over quantity! Might be that I extend the length of my practices again one day again, but right now it seems to be a perfect length. Today my mobile phone wrong when I had finished the back bending asanas. Extra exercises and my slow speed cause that 90 minutes is too short for a full second Ashtanga series. Who cares?

I observe what is possible on a given day. No matter if I felt stiff or weak or flexible and strong, I’m more than happy that I can do this practice.

When discomfort is felt, it’s a sigh that one touched limits. It gives the opportunity to go a tiny step further. It gives the opportunity to breathe and to relax to feel good at the rim of the possibility. Pain tolerance changes every day like everything else, too.

To practice 90 minutes without interruption tells me that my concentration is very good. It’s the illness of the time that people cannot focus anymore. The mobile phones distract most people. I even think that it has the potential to weaken our brain.

In yoga we care for our bodies, but we also take care of our mind. Being able to focus is a skill of the mind. It’s worth to exercise it.

A timer is a useful tool.

  1. One can limit the practice without getting nervous about the time. Sometimes half an hour might be enough. The timer helps to allow me to focus within that time frame.

  2. It’s a good idea to hold asanas longer than 5 breaths. To get an impulse from the outside is more effective than to tell oneself when to stop. Also here a timer can make sense. It’s easier to set a timer for 1 minute than to count 15 breaths.

  3. One can also use a timer to focus i.e. 20 minutes on back bending within the 90 minutes.

I have to timer: my mobile phone and another one.

Getting an impulse from outside helps to free the mind from additional tasks. It intensifies the focus.

What else?

It’s carnival here, it’s the last day and it’s really funny to go downtown to see all the masks. We won’t have much time for carnival today. It’s also not really my circus. We don’t drink, we don’t masquerade, it is as if we just landed from another star. I had a highlight already: My yoga practice. Being a yogi is a life style, I experience this again and again.

Two poses that prepare the leg behind back poses

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Marichyasana A is a pose that prepares leg behind head poses. The knee is already above or behind the back. Sometimes this is the pose I exercise when my body feels too stiff for these leg behind head poses. Important is to move forward and to bring the abdomen close to the leg. To bind is the next step. It can be useful to stretch forward and to bind the hands in front of the foot.

For me the asana in the second picture is a very nice preparation, too. I stretch the leg and I stretch the body. The hand gives support. It’s not all or nothing. Tiny steps in the right direction are sometimes the best advice in order to approach challenging asanas.

Of course I appreciate the day off today.

Might be that I do some asanas today or strength training. I will surely not practice Ashtanga yoga.

Leg behind back

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Most asanas of the first Ashtanga yoga series are forward bending asana. It seems to me as if all these asanas shall prepare the body for one of the most difficult asanas of primary: supta kurmasana. Supta kurmasana is one of the four core asanas of primary. Most people struggle with this pose. Often this pose is not possible even after years of practice.

Supta kurmasana means to take both legs behind the back. Then one lowers the head to the floor. The arms bind behind the back. This is advanced.

There are approaches to supta kurmasana that are more reasonable than trying something again and again for years.

First one must be able to take one leg behind the head, before one tries to take both legs behind the head. This is a difference. This was the way I learned supta kurmasana. I had a flexible teacher who ‘allowed’ me to do second series even though I was not able to do supta kurmasana. Soon I learned to take one leg behind the head. After this interim step supta kurmasana was possible one day.

In order to adjust myself I put one leg behind my back while lying on the floor. That way my body can push my leg backwards. There is much less pressure on the neck. It allows me to stretch the body. After this exercise it becomes easier to sit in that position.

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Each pose shall feel good finally. This feeling good experience is easier to get when on the back. It’s more relaxing than sitting. In the above pose the body pushes the leg to the ground. When in a sitting position, the leg pushes the neck forward.

It can make sense to hold this interim asana up to a minute. The body and mind need time to relax.

After this preparation pose I exercised eka pada sirsasana (see first picture). It allowed me to have my back rather straight.

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I practiced primary. this morning. It was good to practice with an empty stomach before breakfast. During the last decade I have learned some asanas, surely. More important is that I learned how to learn these challenging asanas.

Self-study is recommended, but how?

  • To hold an asana longer than 5 breaths can be useful.

  • Finding similar, but easier asanas is very helpful

  • To find out how one can adjust oneself can help a lot, too.

  • To encourage oneself is also important. Yes, I can.

Today I still omitted supta kurmasana. I feel it already, it becomes possible again, soon.

I’m thankful for a challenging practice without back pain.

The spine

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The spine has 24 vertebras. They are connected via joints. This is why we can move our body in different directions. The perfect construction of the spine allows this flexibility.

  1. We can do inversions. When the head is below the heart we have an inversion pose. It feels as if one can create room.

  2. We can bend backwards.

  3. The spine allows to move the upper body sidewards.

  4. Twists are possible.

  5. We can also round the body and bow forward.

This is a lot. Most people don’t move the body in these different directions, even though the body allows to do it. One day the spine is stiff and not so many movements are possible anymore. Having limitations often comes with age, when people didn’t work on staying flexible. Yet this needn’t be the case. We can keep the spine flexible.

I always aim for a balanced practice. I don’t think that primary series of Ashtanga yoga is a balanced practice. 80% of the asanas are forward bending asanas. They aim at making the hip joint more flexible, but mainly in one direction: forward. The spine remains in it’s natural state. I have the feeling that all these forward bending asanas shall prepare the body for the leg behind head poses. I like these advanced asanas, but are they really important? I don’t think so. It’s more important to move the spine in different directions.

I often add a side stretch these days. I hold the twists longer than 5 breaths. I alter primary with second series.

Today I had to motivate myself to start practicing. As soon as I had done the first sun salutations I was concentrated and enjoyed the practice. The three sun salutations B were easier already than yesterday. Nevertheless my heart rate went up and I sweated a lot. After 90 minutes I was exhausted.

I did urdhva dhanurasana. After all these forward bending asanas it was a weak pose. It makes more sense to work on back bending asanas when I practice second series.

Getting stronger, becoming more flexible again is a journey that requires patience. There is no shortcut. It takes time.

Back bending

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Today I was curious how the back bending asanas would look. They always feel intensive. What I realize is that I have a starting point that is motivating. Not everything is lost. The above pose was possible after many many repetitions. Today was my back bending day. Also my wheel helped me to get deeper and deeper into back bending poses. 90 minutes were over very fast. 90 minutes is enough. I try to fill this time with exercises that make sense. Quality over quantity.

The plan:

  1. The classic exercise is to lift up and to hold urdhva dhanurasna for 5 breaths. Then one lowers the head to the floor. The hands walk to the feet. and again the arms stretch and lift the body into urdhva dhanurasana. I think this is a good start.

  2. In order to get stronger one can lift up as often as possible. One can do 3 sets of this.

  3. It can also be useful to aim for holding this pose for 1 minute. The body needs time to stretch. Last but not least urdhva dhanurasana is a pose that stretches the body backwards.

Urdhva dhanurasana is an asana that Ashtangis practice every day.

After the twists of the second series the time was over.

I was strong

I was strong. Focus is on ‘was’. Today I practiced primary. The plan was to do all the vinyasas. I’m too weak for this these days. I couldn’t even fake myself through this dynamic movement between the asanas. I’m relaxed. It will take some time to get stronger, but it’s possible.

Most important is that I can practice without back pain.

I was so much stronger than I’m now, but I was never strong enough for some poses. Strength training will help me to perform the vinyasas. It will make my practice easier. Today I reached my limits.

Last week I bought these grips. They shall support my effort to master the vinyasas one day. The first step is to lift myself up with straight legs and with crossed legs. To hold this position for 10 breaths is demanding. Then I can aim for swinging forwards and backwards……..

My practice must have priority again. All the other tasks that rise every day, don’t run away from me. They stick like glue. They don’t disappear in the evening like the sun. They can wait at least a bit.

Tomorrow I’ll focus on back bending again. I’m looking forward to my practice.