Monday, July 28, 2008

Extension of the spine is an extension of your brain

After a weekend of take-it-easy Ala no yoga, lots of good Indian food, some shopping at the crazy Laxmi Road, it was time back to class. Today was the older and a very skinny yoga teacher who must weigh all but 100 pounds. I dare ask his name or age, in case I ruffle any feathers or break any rules, I have developed a paranoia about rules at the institute. Irrespective, this teacher is amazing in demonstrating and using students as his guinea. Today's class was all about extending the spine through a series of forward bends, that started with wide-legged Uttanasana with variations and looooooong poses. My grunts and have huffs couldn't end.

I am part of the stiff group, that includes "older and seniors". I found that comment very funny. He moved me to the ropes when it was time for Adho Mukha Svanasana. He talked about extending the trunk from the side chests and the hips to get the spine extension. My neighbor became the guinea pig, as he literally pulled him up from the back of his shorts to show the extension of the spine by raising of the hips, and opening up of the back of the knees. These poses lasted 10-15 minutes each.

Then it was time for Adho Mukha Virasana by placing the forehead at the edge of a bolster and then pushing your arms out and pushing your hips down. It was my turn - He literally climbed up my back and pushed my butt down with his knees. I could barely feel anything, he was light as feather, but strong enough to get me that long extension, and then he just remained as he demonstrated to the class how "stiff" I was and how much I needed to push down to get the proper extension. I must have grunted in pain for a few seconds and it felt like it lasted for many minutes.

But it felt good. I know I am getting better extensions in all my forward bends. I can touch the floor with my palms in Uttanasana, which I have never been able to do. I also had a new appreciation of my muscles and my spine after the anatomy class by Laura Allard, an anatomist and a teacher from the Iyengar Yoga Center of Boulder, Colorado.

Our spine is wrapped around by ropes of paraspinal and paravertebral muscles that provide support to spine and also assist in spinal rotation. I will have a separate post on this class. I had a new appreciation for my body and appreciation of how yoga poses are assisting with enlightening up all these muscles, that we never think of working out in the gym routines. According to Laura having knowledge of your anatomy is one more step to the better understanding of the self, that we can achieve through yoga.

We ended the class with a long elevated savasana, with a bolster and focusing on the breath. I felt energized after the class and I felt clarity in my head. My brain kicked in high gear, while my body felt the good pain. I could conquer any pain with this feeling. And the universe immediately brought me a mini emotional crisis right after. I needed to be still, I needed to be in samasthiti, and I performed one while sitting down in the back seat of the car as I was being driven back to work. I didn't know if that was even possible, but I guess you could establish samasthiti while sitting down - my own sitting down Tadasana.

I had no choice - as I dealt with one crisis on the phone and one visually as I drove by a family of four huddled under the overpass in pouring rain wrapped in garbage bags, with concrete as their bed and sharing it with street dogs. That is their home and I drive by it every morning while they are asleep.

My instinct was to stop the car and get out and give some money to this family. I had seen the two kids play with rocks, under this overpass around a very busy intersection on Saturday. The mother and father were toiled in back breaking hard manual labor, laying down the pavement with concrete. No one was supervising or paying attention to these young children. I always get anxious at that sight, as they remind me of my two girls who I was trying to get on the phone with after repeated unanswered attempts to call.

Its emotional, and I got anxious because they were playing in the middle of heavy and noisy traffic. One misstep and there could be a tragic accident. I struggle with what I could do about it. I could give them some money, I could stop and yell at the parents, but they have to work and their choices are limited. Such is the contrast and dichotomy in India. You take the good with the bad. You have to accept it all without judgement and complete stillness. There was not much I could do to stop and solve this problem. This one I had to accept. Some battles just can't be fought. You have to be paient and pray the ride of change will eventually make things better for people. I have done my share of effecting change, which I will write about in a future post.

I needed to disconnect and I had to be still as that was the only way I could react in order to absorb and get over these two events occurring simultaneously. So in addition to indifference and detachment, which I practice religiously now, I learnt this morning that stillness can be your shield to stressful and emotional crisis. That was my lesson for today and I think those spine stretches helped me with my ability to be still and upright. Stay tuned for the post on Anatomy and Yoga.


The Yogi

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