In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Svatmarama tells us that in order to succeed in yoga we need: Openness, Determination, Courage, Enthusiasm, Knowledge of the Truth and Solitude. By knowledge of the truth, I don’t think he means academic or intellectual achievement, but the clear vision we catch a glimpse of sometimes, when our minds are still. Even so, according to Krishnamacharya, practice and knowledge must always go together. He used to say, practice without right knowledge of theory is blind. This is also because without right knowledge, one can mindfully do a wrong practice. Brain ache? Me too.
What I’m aiming for is a yoga practice that keeps the mind occupied whilst still paying attention to the breath, the movement of energy in the body and the mindful execution of the postures. I have a wonderful book on my shelf called the Yoga Sequences Companion by Vani Devi (Kool Kat Publications 2012) and my attention was drawn to a Figure of Eight Sequence. If you have ever done any Energy Medicine classes, or Brain Gym exercises, then you’ll know that the figure of 8 is a powerful thing in modern kinesiology, as well as being significant in ancient civilisations. The idea of the figure of 8 is that is balances the left and right hemispheres of the brain.
In Vani Devi’s book she begins by tracing figures of 8 with the eyes, then limbering the neck by drawing figures of 8 with the chin, followed by shoulders (challenging for my brain), figures of 8 in cat pose, in a hip limber, using the knees and finally standing on one leg and describing figures of 8 with the raised foot. The recommendation is to follow this sequence with the Swimming Dragon and she gives a description of that sequence too.
Swimming Dragon is a Qigong exercise. I have done it in yoga classes before, but I wanted to be sure I could teach it well so I trawled Youtube for a good demonstration. My favourite instructional video for Swimming Dragon is the one by Dashi Chu Kocica. She makes it look very elegant and it’s easy to follow.
As for the yoga postures, my lesson plan is heading towards Sasangasana (Rabbit pose) via Utkatasana (Fierce Pose) and Uttanasana (standing forward bend). I don’t teach headstand, so Rabbit will do nicely. I was originally taught it as the one to do if you have a tension headache or a cold coming on. But apart from that, it releases tension in the neck and shoulders and lengthens the spine.
My balance posture is the Pipal Tree. It is said that the Buddha obtained enlightenment meditating beneath this Holy Fig Tree, so that seems appropriate. If you’ve never done it, it’s very simple. Stand in Tadasana, take the right leg behind you until only the big toe is in contact with the floor. Inhaling, take your right arm out to the side at shoulder height and raise the left arm above your head. If you feel balanced, you can lift the back foot off the floor. Try to keep the hips level. Hold for three to five breaths and repeat on the left side.
Nadi Shodana Pranayama would seem to be indicated as it is a balancing breath, and for relaxation I like the visualisation offered by Thick Nhat Hanh – to see yourself as a pebble sinking gently to the bottom of the river bed.