Ashtanga vinyasa yoga, remixed

 Radiohead’s new album drops next week. It’s not actually a new Radiohead album per se. TKOL RMX 1234567 is a new album of Radiohead songs off The King of Limbs that have been remixed by artists like Caribou and Four Tet. I’ve always loved remixes because they’re a different way of imagining and experiencing the same lyrics and the same basic melodies.

I think going through your Ashtanga practice with a different teacher in the room can achieve a similar effect. Same postures and vinyasas — but perhaps a different glissando from pose to pose or a different vibrational quality in an adjustment.

That’s one of the many reasons why I’m looking forward to the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence taking place in San Diego next March. You’ll have five renowned teachers who clearly teach from the heart sharing their love of the practice. I’m looking forward to experiencing some live remixes of my Ashtanga practice.

My Planet Telex moment in Ashtanga second series (or, how to find relief from the posture pictured below)

Tittibhasana B

I hate this posture.

Let me rephrase. I loathe this posture.

It’s called tittibhasana B (insect posture), and it appears in Ashtanga second series, a practice heavy on backbends and extreme hip openers as a way of liberating energy coiled at the base of the spine. On good days, second series feels like Pop Rocks candy on my spine — tingly, refreshing and a category unto itself. Most of the time, though, it is still a practice that I struggle to enjoy (unlike primary series, which is full of forward ends and is designed to bring the body into balance), and in no small part because of the extreme hip openers found in the middle of the series. My body and mind love hip opening postures as a category, but the ones that appear in second series are intense and make me confront seeping feelings of anxiety, frustration, impatience and irritation.

Needless to say, I have never found anything liberating about tittibhasana B, except the part when you’ve finished your five breaths in the posture and get to come out of it. (If this sounds familiar, I also like to come out of virabhadrasana A. Warrior A is a posture you often see in flow-based yoga practices. You don’t see insect posture much unless you do Ashtanga second series, so I don’t usually cite this as my nemesis posture. But it is quite possibly the single posture I hate the most — the posture I would edit out if I had an asana eraser.)

In tittibhasana, my arms don’t just drape around the back of the legs to find a clasp the way the yogi in this photo seems to effortlessly do. When I do this posture, my legs can’t straighten and my arms can, at most, reach my butt — I mean, I basically feel as if I’m trying to feeling up my own ass when I try to wiggle into this posture. When I’m in it, I often think, “Yoga teaches us humility, but really? Seriously? Is this necessary?

But something happened during the led Ashtanga second series class at Hilltop Yoga in Lansing’s Old Town this evening, and it prompted me, after finishing class to, check in to Foursquare and tweet this:

The opening line of Radiohead’s “Planet Telex“: “You can force it but it will not come.” Welcome to Ashtanga second series.

The reason? To explain, I have to talk about the posture that comes a few postures before this one. It’s called eka pada sirsasana (one-leg-behind-head posture), and it looks like this:

Eka pada sirsasana

I’ve been practicing led Ashtanga second series since last summer, and I usually can’t get either leg behind my head. On occasion, I can get my right leg behind, but I can’t leg go without the leg coming with me. (In his book on second series, Gregor Maehle describe his posture as “a peculiar mix of hamstring flexibility and hip rotation.)

I wondered during practice today whether all this time, I had been unable to approach this posture the right way because I was tense. There are times when I know I’m unnecessarily tensing a group of muscles — for example, the gluteus maximus or the shoulders. It’s hardest, though, when you don’t even know you’re holding on somewhere. So before going into eka pada sirsasana posture this evening, I tried to inhale relaxation into my right hip. I moved very slowly. I more or less had a conversation with my whole pelvis area, trying to coax it into relaxation.

Viola, both my right leg and my left cooperating with me.

Fast forward a few postures to tittibhasana B. Before I went into it, I once again tried to focus on breathing release into my hips. On not wanting this posture too much. For the first time ever, this posture did not sting in my lower body the way it normally does. I felt equanimity. I felt calm.

I saw a tweet the other day from @MeredithLeBlanc. I liked a lot:

If U notice Ur hips feeling tight while walking – stop, breath deep into the pelvis & feel the fluid flow in Ur body. Vam Vam Vam

When I was in New York a couple weeks for the Public Relations Society of America’s Digital Impact conference, I took Mysore classes at an excellent Midtown studio called the Yoga Sutra. One of the instructors kept coming over to tell me to relax my hip in standing postures.

So you might say I was primed for this moment tonight to finally, after all these years, relax my hip. In yoga, there’s the idea of sthira sukham — steady comfort.  You find strength, but you also find surrender. Being strong enough to let go is the moment that you free yourself. I’ve always loved that the first line of Radiohead’s “Planet Telex,” which is also the first line on the group’s 1995 album The Bends, is an indictment against trying to push through. What’s true for life is true for our yoga practice and vice versa, and it makes me wonder in what ways I might be holding on too tightly to something in my life off the mat.

(Photo credits: Both via www.ashtangayoga.info)

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How do you turn the world right-side-up again?

Sirsasana in padmasanaLong day.

Come to think of it, long week. Long month! I’ve been working evenings and weekends for…I don’t even want to count the weeks.

When the pressure is this high, when the work deadlines are this intense, when life likes to keeps throwing challenges your way — how do you keep grounded? I do yoga — especially the grounding practice of Ashtanga primary series. And I turn even more to the music that keeps me grounded.

Lately Iggy Pop, Arcade Fire, Gorillaz and MC Yogi have been in heavy rotation. (Never heard of MC Yogi? What I first learned about Ganesh — the mythical remover of obstacles — I learned from this very cool musician and ashtangi. If it’s the name that’s getting to you, get over it and check him out.)

Again and again, though, I return to Radiohead. Much like the way sun salutations start to melt the tensions of a day away, a Radiohead song can massage my brain like almost nothing else.

Yesterday was the birthday of Radiohead lead singer Thom Yorke, and tonight I played Amnesiac, the most fitting soundtrack for today. “Like Spinning Plates” is one of my top 5 Radiohead songs, maybe it has something to do with how it was recorded. This overview comes from a most outstanding fan site:

“Thom sung the backwards melody. It was recorded forward then listened to backwards and he did the phrasing so as to create backward sounding words but its sung forwards.” Upside down/backwards.”

To me, the posture that most parallels how this song feels is sirsasana (headstand). In Ashtanga, we find inversions during the finishing postures, when we come up into sirsasana A (with hands clasps on the mat) and sirsasana B (with your legs parallel to the ground). There are seven headstands in second series. There is nothing like standing on your head and voluntarily coming into an upside-down space to help set the world right again. Going upside and backwards to set the world straight — how very yogic and how very rock-n-roll.