We often get asked what kind of yoga to we do… this is a hard question… like asking what kind of love do you do? Yoga is yoga is yoga, it’s so vast, and it changes with each individual experience of it. Like love, almost impossible to contain or define, but we all know it when we feel it. I guess if I had to try… I would suggest possibly classical Ashtanga (8 limbs) in that we practice asana & pranayama embedded in the eight-limbed system outlined by Patanjali. Our foundation is in the Yamas and Niyamas we are generally guided by in our efforts to live harmoniously with others and within ourselves, we are supported in our efforts by the tools of pratyahara, dharana and dhyana and we aim for the ultimate yogic state of Samadhi (again indefinable – but pure knowing, pure bliss, pure being, oneness gets you in the vicinity). Of course there have been teachers who have influenced us over the years… such as the great BKS Iyengar and Sri K Pattabhi Jois… these two phenomenal teachers have probably been our greatest inspirations, and the teachers who followed them. Plus we have been inspired by Sivananda, Satyananda, Ramakrishna, Sri Poonjaji, Thich Naht Hahn, Neem Keroli Baba, Buddha, Jesus… just to name a few. For me… it is all yoga. Yoga is the ultimate state of truth, of union of the individual soul with the universal, the supreme understanding and being… and all the tools and paths that get you there. Of course, we, like everyone are still on the path… the only thing that we have to offer is our shared experience of the journey. Cam and Mark have dedicated 26 years full time to the path, my 20 year “anniversary” is coming up later this year, Kath 18 years, Dan about 15 and Christine about 12. Yoga has been our committed path over this time. So we have more experience than some, and less than others… and we continue travelling. The only moment in time that counts is this one… now… attempting to truly live the truth, the love, now. We will fail and we will succeed in moments… it is all part of it… there is nothing that is not. I read somewhere recently that a master makes the same choice everyday… the choice to walk the path… and this is all any of us can really do… In this way we are reborn, and we recreate daily, even moment by moment. The example of Jesus’s resurrection serves to remind us of this daily capacity, this daily choice… It’s exciting and full of possibility… so as I bid you farewell and wish you happy Easter… I wish you the gift of this understanding… with love.
This is the first pose to master to be able to do handstand and headstand: “kneel down, with your toes together and heels slightly wide, keeping your sitting bones to the heels as best you can, fold forward with your forehead resting on the floor, extend your arms forward – hands shoulder width apart pressing gently into the floor”.
WHAT? I hear you say… that doesn’t sound much like handstand! But it is. When we realise that the seed of the advanced postures are in the gentle beginning postures, we gain a new insight how we can create a foundation and move towards the advanced postures in a sustainable way.
The gentle kneeling posture described is not passive. The navel draws in slightly causing the sitting bones to move back away from the hands towards the heels. This activates moola bandha and begins to teach the technique of drawing the weight of the hips away from the shoulders and hands. The heart/sternum moves gently towards the hands activating the uddiyana bandha and opening the thoracic cage, creating more space for the breath. The arms extended above the head are engaged – the palms spread and press gently into the floor activating the triceps, the biceps roll out slightly and the shoulder blades draw down towards the kidneys, as well as moving into the back – closing the shoulder girdle and providing stability. The armpits are comfortably open at 180 degrees. The forehead resting on the floor means the back of the neck is lengthened, the chin tucks naturally in to the base of the throat and the jalandhara bandha is activated.
These are all of the same instructions for downward dog pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana). The only difference is there is no gravity or hamstring involvement. When we add these two elements to the equation, the pose becomes more challenging. We use the same instructions, but at a higher level of skill. Downward dog pose is where we strengthen and develop the qualities needed to perform handstand/headstand safely – maintaining the bandhas and the shoulder and arm action under greater challenge.
Then we practice the half handstand/or headstand by keeping our hands/head on the ground and walking our legs up a wall. (We are facing the wall and have placed our hands/arms/head a leg’s length away from the wall). This takes the challenge up a notch. When we can maintain the skills required in this pose COMFORTABLY for about a minute, then we are ready to try a short handstand or headstand.
Although this progression takes a little longer, and is not for the impatient, it provides a solid platform on which we can practice the inverted postures safely, with grace, control and skill. The learning will stay with us, and we will avoid the pitfalls of taking imbalanced action into our final pose. Step by step, layer by layer, we create a strong aware posture. Handstands and headstands not only bring us great energy, but they keep us “fresh” by turning everything upside down, and they are great for the spirit, bringing great joy. Please ask your teacher for guidance any step of the way.
“Ashtanga Yoga is the greatest and noblest gift that Patanjali has offered to man. It is the foundation and the pinnacle for man in his yogic journey”- BKS Iyengar, Light on Ashtanga Yoga.