Sunday, June 18, 2006

Bhan(da) in 60 Seconds

I must say that I have been somewhat intrigued by the notion that if you can hold Bakasana for 60 seconds, then you are ready for the bhanda-building gymnastics training described in this article, cited by OKRGR on the Ashtanga EZBoard, entitled "Building an Olympic Body Through Body Weight Conditioning, which notion I am not even entirely certain is stated in the article, as opposed to stated by someone on the EZBoard. Not having read the article, but having skimmed it and having read about the article on the EZ Board's "All Bend No Strength thread, I think it is safe to say that the article's conceit is that if you learn to engage in "full body contraction", you can increase your strength by leaps and bounds. I won't even go into the incredible feats of strength that one might learn to perform once one has passed the thresshold test of being able to hold Bakasana for 60 seconds, but trust me, they make the stuff we (or at least I) do in Ashtanga seem tame by comparison.

But I will say, I am kind of grooving on this idea of "full body contraction". It seems to speak to me in clearer terms than "bhandas", even if, in the end, they amount to the same thing: a full-tilt "inner lift" that originates deep within the abdomen, as far down as the pelvic floor. I think the reason why is fairly simple: once you call it "full body contraction", you have a roadmap of how to engage it: full body. I never thought of bhandas that way. And perhaps bhandas do NOT, strictly speaking, a contraction of the "full body". That said, in spending some time exploring what it feels like to engage the "full body" in muscular contraction, I have come to the conclusion (and by conclusion, I mean where my head is at today, and it could change as I learn and practice more, of course) that even a "full body" contraction does not necessarily actually involve the full body, although in theory, in intention, it does. Thus, it gets you to the same place as engaging the bhandas, at least physically.

My exploration actually began in a class I was teaching on Friday at Yoga Sutra. I had a group of about 12 students, and they all looked fairly fit. I asked them how they felt about arm balances, particularly Bakasana. They seemed, for the most part, to kind of perk up at the idea. So, I went a little further and told them that what I had in mind for class was to work up to spending 60 seconds holding Bakasana, or holding Bakasana, letting it go, and then holding it again, in any event, for a period of 60 seconds. They looked very happy, so I went with it. To warm my students up for Bakasana, I made sure to include squatting poses (versions of Malasana) and three versions of Prasarita Padotannasana (A, C and D). And of course, I always begin a vinyasa class with lots of Surya Namaskar A's and B's, which among other things, and of particular importance in this case, warms up the wrists, and in the case of Surya Namaskar B, with it's up to Warrior I on the inhale and down to Chatturanga on the exhale, helps to develop balance and equilibrium. I included a warm-up Bakasana in one of my sequences wthin the first 45 minutes of class. But the "big-finish" (the long-hold Bakasana) was saved for nearly last: the last thing we did before moving to backbends.

In any event, what I saw in my class was truly remarkable. I couldn't believe that I had never thought to hold (or have my students) hold Bakasana for extended time periods. In fact, quite the opposite - it always seemed taboo to ask my students to stay in Bakasana for anything longer than three to five breaths. But here, when they had a nice, juicy, long time to explore the posture, I saw incredible strength, balance, coordination. And when I suggested that they try engaging every muscle in their body, we had lift-off.

Today (after going to a Bikram class last night and feeling like my Pitta self simply cannot handle any more heat anymore, although I know I will keep trying), I practiced at my parents' condo by the beach in Monmouth County, New Jersey. New Jersey natives will know what I mean when I say, I was "down the shore". The temperature outside was probably around 80 degrees Farenheit, but the salt air breezes made it feel like a little bit of heaven. I laid down my mat on their patio and had one of the most stress-free, non-heat-stroked practices I can remember. Funny, didn't I have my worst practice EVER just a day or two ago? Afterwards, I decided to give the looooong Bakasana a try, to see how it sat with me.

And, well, wow.

Midway through, I told myself to engage my whole body (rather than just the usual, "Bhandas, Lauren! Bhandas!"), and I felt as if my knees could maybe, possibly, someday at least, float right off of my armpits. It was lovely!

Also, just an aside - got my ankle behind my head on both sides in my Supta K R&D. Granted, my back was as rounded as a turtle's shell, but it's a start. Paging Dr. Blau, I believe I will need an adjustment in short order....


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Copyright 2005-2007 Lauren Cahn, all rights reserved. Photos appearing on this blog may be subject to third party copyright ownership. You are free to link to this blog and portions hereof, but the use of any direct content requires the prior written consent of the author.

About Me

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Northern Westchester, New York, United States
I live by a duck pond. I used to live by the East River. I don't work. I used to work a lot. Now, not so much. I used to teach a lot of yoga. Now not so much. I still practice a lot of yoga though. A LOT. I love my kids, being outdoors, taking photos, reading magazines, writing and stirring the pot. Enjoy responsibly.


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