Ashtanga

Navasana into Handstand

Navasana

I practice physical (Hatha) Yoga

and mental (Raja) Yoga.

I am not sure it is possible to do one without the other; just as we cannot inhale without exhaling – they go together. However, as we all know, there are different levels of practice to any art or science. Similarly, it is possible to be breathing every waking moment of the day and yet by days end be completely unaware of having experienced the incredible life giving exchange of oxygen.

“When the word Yoga is mentioned, most people immediately think of some physical postures for relaxing and limbering up the body. This is one aspect of the Yogic science, but actually only a very small part and relatively recent in development. The physical Yoga, or Hatha Yoga, was primarily designed to facilitate the real practice of Yoga – namely, the understanding and complete mastery over the mind. So the actual meaning of Yoga is the science of the mind.”

-From the Introduction The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Yoga is subjective and in Western culture this is very much the case. No one can define for another what Yoga should be. Once we choose to practice anything, we make it our own.

We can choose to simply go through the motions and be done with our practice, whatever that may be (Yoga, running, swimming, Tai Chi, etc.), and check it off our master list of things to do for the day, or we can choose to practice with intention, focus and purpose. It takes the same amount of time to do either and no more effort. It comes down to choice.

My Yoga practice over the last eighteen years has had its own evolution; years of intense continuous practice to some years with very little to none at all. There were moments when my ego subconsciously struggled with attaining physical goals to moments like right now where I feel deeply satisfied in practicing without a goal. The practice is the practice – just as I am beginning to understand, to really understand that there is only now.

It is definitely an interesting state of mind to observe oneself; like a spectator to my own thoughts and to my own physical practice. With this in mind I am sharing a video that I put together as an example of what practice can do.

I began filming myself as a tool to analyze my alignment. At the same time I realized that there aren’t many videos out there that actually show, through the progression of time, how we can improve with consistent practice. We often see photographs of the final product, or experts demonstrating the final product, which is important, but I think it is equally important for beginners to see that regardless of ability, we all have to start at the very beginning – our own beginning.

This video shows what 12 weeks of practice looks like (bloopers and all).

At this point, I would like to bridge the idea of practice with time. In this video I am demonstrating my attempts at doing Navasana (boat) into Handstand, which is the thirteenth posture in the Ashtanga Yoga Primary series. I get to Navasana by the fifty-minute mark and only spend about three to four minutes on this particular sequence. I proved to myself what an impact short duration practice can have. I only spent three to four minutes, two to three times per week on this.

But in the same breath, achieving the physical is actually unimportant. I realize this may come across as a contradiction, and I am fully aware of this, but I think that this is what makes it such an interesting state of mind. An important element of the physical and mental Yoga practice is about confronting one’s ambition and learning to manage it.

“Real yoga is what you can’t see. It’s invisible.”

-David Williams

I filmed this after about a year of an on-again regular home-based Ashtanga Yoga practice, which included Surya Namaskara A & B, the Standing Series, the first twelve seated postures, three backbends followed by the closing sequence, practiced two to three times per week. (A total of forty-five minutes for each practice session).

I did very few jump through or jump back vinyasa because doing them in previous years seemed to cause irritation (in hindsight, I realize now that because I was out of balance I would unknowingly compensate at my shoulders or neck or back etc.), so I made the executive decision to leave those vinyasa out and see what would happen.

July 2012, I felt that it was time to add on. The thirteenth posture in the series is Navasana. From all my years of practice I never attempted the handstand, which is part of that progression. I would always just do a seated lift, and carry on, which was typically taught in classes and I was not told to do the handstand by my teacher in Mysore class. Since I was reviewing and studying from John Scott’s manual, I took it as a sign that I should attempt it. Again, this felt like walking the tight rope of ambition…

Traditionally, in Ashtanga Yoga, the student should not proceed with postures until the preceding postures are attained with adequate proficiency. This makes perfect sense to me. In previous years though, when I would go to classes, students of all levels would be herded through the entire primary series regardless of ability. I decided I wouldn’t do this anymore. There is a reason for practicing the same thing over and over again until the body and mind is ready to add on. Western culture, tends to override theory with the customer is always right and wanting a perceived moneys-worth-of-a-workout. It is OK to proceed at a snail’s pace because being able to contort oneself into a pose doesn’t mean anything without Raja Yoga.

“Real yoga lives in everyday interactions, like being nice.

It’s the unity we can create around us.

If it were just about gymnastics, then Olympic medalists would be swamis and gurus. “

– David Swenson

In the video you will see that at the beginning I couldn’t even do a handstand to gradually understanding the transition from the seated lift attempting to pivot into the handstand. Now, hold on a second. I feel like I should clarify something. Yes, of course I could do a handstand in a gymnastics kind of way. But doing a handstand in a Yogic state of mind is very different. Try it sometime.

But what is important for me to share is that it is the process of practice that is the goal, not the goal of attaining the pose or sequence. I may never be able to move seemlessly from Navasana to Handstand, but that really doesn’t matter to me. If we truly understand what practice means, then we understand that a pose is never attained, no matter how beautiful of an image we see of one, because it continues to grow and transform with each practice.

We age. Life happens. We change. We grow.

And naturally so does everything we do.

Our body shifts and changes so much with every day as does our mind (from thoughts and experiences) that each day when we practice we are completely different from the previous day.

To me, this type of physical Yoga, is an incredibly thorough system of physical therapy, which makes its ancient beginnings so remarkable. As we progress through the system, if we take care and not rush through with ambition, our body will become innately prepared for the next posture. But this takes time and practice.

“Practice, and all is coming.”

Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

Practice without ambition. Practice with focus and with a desire to learn with each breath. Practice being in the moment and not thinking about what comes next.

;

You will notice that I have sped up the video in some areas; however, I have not slowed it down at all. Shortening twelve weeks of practice (approximately 144 minutes of total practice time into a 5minute video has its challenges).

As an aside, I just wanted to explain that most of the seated postures in Ashtanga Yoga are only held for five breaths, which amounts to approximately one minute each. In the big picture, this does not seem like a lot of time. But when you practice regularly, then you will know that when we focus our attention on a task, a lot can happen in one minute; this is more profound than spending more time without focus. It makes a difference and it this which contributes to change.

I will talk more about focused practice vs. duration next time.

My Weekly Body Maintenance

Post-Yoga Practice

Seems like once I say it out loud or write it down, IT changes.

The IT I’m referring to in this case, is my Body Maintenance schedule. I have taken to calling it My Body Maintenance because that is how I see it now. It’s not so much my workout anymore. The physical activity that I engage in everyday has more to do with the methodical maintenance of my overall physical health and functional alignment.

I find it interesting that most people I run into assume that I am training for something. Are you a triathlete? You must workout a lot! Nothing could be further from the truth, which is why I am posting this schedule. This entire website is about how to maintain our overall health with a healthy dose of moderate daily body maintenance. SOME focused daily body maintenance, not an extreme amount, EVER. Focus on precision of movement in every waking moment and lead an Active Lifestyle. Sounds simple enough doesn’t it? I believe that it is, it just takes a little bit of practice and perhaps a whole lot of belief shifting to make it happen; more on the belief part another day.

Do something everyday.

Learn > Practice > Refine > Repeat.

A year ago my weekly schedule looked very different compared with the current one (below). At the bottom of this post I will write out what last years schedule looked like and what it looked like a year before that. Change is good. I choose to change and move forward towards better health. Doing more was not the answer for me.

“Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”

–Will Rogers

Since June 2012 this is what my current weekly Body Maintenance schedule has been:

Monday       Tuesday Wednesday Thursday
Rest &Recovery Stairs Warm Up+1-mile Track Run(aim for 7min. Mile)+Max. Push Ups in 1 Minute

+Ashtanga Yoga

(~80 min. Total time)

30 Min.Swim drills Stairs Warm Up+4 Minute Burpees Tabata+400x Skipping+Ashtanga Yoga(~70 min. Total Time)
ACTIVE LIVING

ACTIVE LIVING

 ACTIVE LIVING  ACTIVE LIVING
Friday Saturday Sunday
30 Min.Swim drills Rest &RecoveryOrAshtanga Yoga(30 – 60 min. Total time) 30 Min.Swim drills
ACTIVE LIVING ACTIVE LIVING

ACTIVE LIVING

 

Current Ashtanga Yoga Practice (~60 minutes):

  • 5x Surya Namaskara A
  • 3-5 x Surya Namaskara B
  • Standing Series
  • First 12 seated postures (Lift between each posture with the occasional vinyasa)
  • Working on Navasana up to Handstand (I will post a video of this progression, it is quite amusing)
  • 2 Backbends + counter pose
  • The Finishing Sequence (when not menstruating)
  • Closing Sequence
  • Savasana
  • No practice on full moon days.

25 – 30 minutes Swim Drills (20 meter pool):

  • 4 lengths flutter kick w/board
  • 8 lengths front crawl w/flip turn
  • 2 lengths flutter kick on back with arms overhead
  • 8 lengths back stroke
  • 2 lengths flutter kick on back with arms overhead
  • 8 lengths breast stroke
  • 4 lengths dolphin kick w/board
  • 4 lengths arms only front crawl w/pull buoy
  • 4 lengths flutter kick w/ board
  • 8 lengths front crawl w/flip turn
  • 4 min. Vertical Treading Water Tabata
  • 4 lengths easy front crawl cool down
  • 10 – 15 minute stretch in whirlpool

Pool Lap Lane

Of course Active Living varies from day to day and season to season. My biggest House Maintenance Day tends to be on my Rest & Recovery Days but that is not set in stone – stuff comes up! Some house maintenance is done everyday, regardless. Rest & Recovery days vary too.

It also looks like my Playground Pit-Stops will be dwindling over the winter months, as they usually do – monkey bars and D-Rings need to be dry (and Vancouver is pretty wet), but with cold muscles my hands just can’t hold a grip. There is also the dog walk duty, which is shared between my husband and me; we don’t have a set schedule.

If you want to know your past, look into your present conditions.

If you want to know your future, look into your present actions.

~Chinese Proverb

This is an example of a week schedule from 2011:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday
Stairs Warm Up+ light stretches+My 12 minute Workout+1×100 skipping+5 Forward GripPull Ups

Ashtanga Yoga

 

Rest& RecoveryDay 30 Min.Swim Drills Rest &Recovery DayOrMy 12 minute Workout+1×100 skipping

+Ashtanga Yoga

 

Active Living Active Living Active Living Active Living
Friday Saturday Sunday
30 Min.Swim Drills Rest &Recovery DayOrMy 12 minute Workout+4 x 100 skipping

+5 Forward Grip

Pull-Ups

+Ashtanga Yoga

 

30 Min.Swim Drills
Active Living Active Living Active Living

2011 – June 2012

Ashtanga Yoga Practice (~40 minutes):

  • 3 – 4x Surya Namaskara A
  • 3x Surya Namaskara B
  • Standing series
  • first 12 seated postures (no vinyasa)
  • 3 backbends
  • Closing Sequence
  • Savasana

Swim Drills (30 minutes):

  • Same as above except only difference
  • Egg Beater Treading Water Tabata

In the years before the examples above, my workouts were much longer, over 30 minutes and up to 45 minutes in duration for BodyRock style workouts. I used to take a Masters Swim Group Class (not “masters” by definition meaning experts, rather all of us gained entry because we were over 35). And I used to go out for an hour of intense soccer with the ladies once or twice a week. When I think back on it now I can’t believe I used to do that!  I was trained to believe that we had to get our heart rate up to a certain number for a certain amount of time to reap any benefits. I used to believe a lot of “facts” backed up by scientific research written in esteemed text books and journals. Now I see that it is much, much more complex than all that. Everything is. For me, this says a lot about our belief systems and what we do because of them.

In a nutshell?

Do less at one time. But do it well; with precision. Be active throughout the day.