Week 2: Forward bending and seated postures
What is the purpose of standing postures? (these will be covered in week 2 (forward bends) and week 3 (twists and balances))
The rhythm and the foundation for practice has been set through the flowing nature of Surya Namaskara A and B. The standing sequence initiates the weaving of one asana to the next. The sun salutations combined with the standing sequence act as one slice of bread. The second piece of bread is the finishing sequence.
In the standing sequence our balance is challenged and the understanding of how to work with the forces of gravity is developed. In all asanas there is a point of equality of opposition in which we may find the greatest sense of stability and comfort. This point may be discovered in the simultaneous rooting and rising energies within the body. In the standing sequence the feet are the roots of our body which reach far down into the earth in order to gain a stable foundation. From this base we may then grow and expand, lifting and lengthening into each asana. We must seek a balance between these two forces of grounding and lifting.
Below are pictures of the Ashtanga standing postures:
The Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series builds sequentially in terms of flexibility and strength in order prepare you for some of the gateway postures in the practice. Starting with the Sun Salutations, aimed at both steadying the mind and warming up the inner fire, the practice opens the hamstrings, stretches and strengthens the back, increases core development and purifies the entire body. The logic of the Primary Series builds up to certain (“gateway”) postures that test alignment, inner strength and flexibility in order to make sure that the asana practice is solid and stable before moving on.
The Primary Series begins with Dandasana, the first seated posture and ends with Setu Bandhasana which is the final asana before the finishing sequence. The Primary Series is known for its hip-openers, forward bends, full and half lotus positions.
Each posture is held for 5 breaths. There are many repetitions of chaturanga, updog and downdog to link the postures together, whether it be different sides of the same posture, or different postures. When there are right and left sides to a posture (as with Janu Sirsasana), the right is always practised first.
In Sanskrit, a forward bend is known as Paschimottanasana -the “western stretch” in English. Traditionally, the back of the body is referred to as the west and the front as the east. The very name suggests the all-encompassing quality of the pose. It affects the enter back of the body. To fully release into forward bends we must let go of an entire chain of muscles that start in the feet and move all the way up the legs to the pelvis and lower back, and across the entire back and all the way up to the head and neck. Tension anywhere along this line can create restriction in other areas; release requires patience and care. When pursued vigorously, injury to the hamstrings or lower back is more likely.
Forward bends are deeply calming asanas that draw us into the inner mysteries and dynamics of our lives. As we fold into ourselves, the asana naturally lends to deeper self-reflection, which can be emotionally nourishing or difficult depending on what comes up. Some forward bends such as Balasana a.k.a. Childs pose, are deeply nurturing; we are in this position during nine months of gestation and naturally return to this foetal position to nurture or protect ourselves.