During the workshop at Studio Panterra last weekend, a question surfaced regarding mantra. Since Francois Raoult is an ethnomusicologist by training, it is perhaps natural that mantra and sound are components of his practice and study. Here is some of his discussion:
We are interested in how the sound is embodied and how it flows through you. We’re not so interested in simply repeating the sounds for the sake of saying them.
The mantra doesn’t need to be polished; there is often a rough quality to it. It is not a song. Kirtan is somewhere between mantra and songs.
In old Indian temples mantra is alive and intense with old people chanting in crackling voices, sweating, etc.
Mantra of sound is a bindu or seed form. We’re not interested in meaning of word, but in the SOUND itself, such as Alleluia or Amen. Early Gregorian chant (in Latin) was very mantric.
Mantra is a shamanic power tool – don’t mess around with it foolishly.
When to begin mantra practice: Don’t do something too esoteric until you have some mastery of the exoteric. For example, if your trikonasana really stinks, don’t add jnana mudra! Side note: Mudras can devolve into gimmickry, but if you are aware and use them sensitively, they may be a powerful addition to your practice. Interestingly, most mudras Westerners can’t do because our fingers are too tight.
When chanting mantra, your voice has to be free of any gripping or holding. The sound has to well from deep within.
The Iyengar take is that ASANA IS THE MUDRA and BREATH IS THE MANTRA.
You should not repeat a mantra audibly without responsibility; you have to feel it deep inside. First you have to project your voice – there has to be some juice. Then you shape the sound, and then go introverted.
Every sound is a mantra, even the rain.
The percussion of acorns falling on skylights and a steady beat of rain augmented the continuous brahmari humming of a roomful of yogis stretched individually upon blankets, palms turned skyward.
F. played the singing bowl as we relaxed, healing our grief and stress. Ahh, savasana!
Saturday, May 14, blossomed cloudy and rainy – a fabulous day to drive through the vineyards into Westfield NY’s brilliant yoga studio PANTERRA for an afternoon exploring standing poses with teacher, Dariel Woltz. If you missed the poem I posted regarding my classes at Panterra, you may wish to read “body heart and soul” first.
Here are some idiosyncratic notes that I took during the afternoon:
We folded into UTTANASANA with bent knees, what I call the tucked ski jump position, this time with arms stretched forward so we could really feel the spine lengthening. ** Then we hugged our calves while resisting with the inner thighs until we could feel the pelvic floor open. ** After that occurred, we straightened our legs and hung, allowing the belly to soften and release deeply with every exhalation. ** The weight here is on the front of the heels or further forward for a bigger stretch. ** When ready, push into feet to come up.
ARDHA CHANDRASANA : A general measure for the hands is 6 inches forward and 8 inches out to the side. **The NAVICULAR bone – bone on the inside arch side of your foot – should lift in the complete pose. ** If you turn your front foot in, you are more likely to get a cramp in the outer hip. ** If over-arching, go lower, no block, so you don’t compress the kidney so much. ** When teaching this pose, always look at your student from the back of the pose.
TRIKONASANA : Counter-bend the upper torso BEFORE going down and continue to think about being in extension on the top rib side while going down. ** Make sure stance is wide enough; if it’s too short, it will limit hip action and the student will never get to the floor. ** When the right leg is forward, the right hip socket has to move back and away from the right big toe….the back hip must be allowed to move slightly forward.
ALL STANDING POSES Begin and End in TADASANA. Only once you step your feet apart do you tend to lose your back curves.
WARRIOR TWO : Front shin aligned from knee to ankle…knee pointing at 2nd and 3rd toes. Front thigh parallel to the floor…hip socket in line with knee. To find hip socket move finger inward and up a bit from the greater trochanter.
TICTACTOE: all aligned on front leg: knee – hip socket of front leg – sit bone of back leg
Watch for back knee – have it bend down first and then straighten it. Beginners tend to lean forward so practice pose with heel and fingers on wall. In the pose let the back pelvis face slightly forward.
FREE THE PELVIS from the legs!! SeeEric Franklin’s Pelvic Power: Mind/Body Exercises for Strength, Flexibility, Posture, and Balance for Men and Women.
PARSVOKONASANA: Use block instead of elbow to get more revolution in upper body
Keep chin in and look at armpit…not off into space
3 Point Adjustment by teacher: Knee goes behind sitbone or thigh….Hand goes through forward arm and holds thigh towards arm…Back arm externally rotates back thigh
Heel to heel alignment OR front heel to back instep.
OTHER VARIATIONS: Ball or chair under front thigh…can put blanket on chair if chair too short
ROTATOR CUFF issues: make sure the shoulder blade goes down the back THEN revolve arm…can also leave top arm on hip!
For this as well as Trikonasana and other standing poses, try palms UP to externally rotate shoulder instead of internally rotating. Most folks invariably rotate inwardly when they raise their arms.
UTKATASANA:lightning bolt or chair pose….knees and heels are apart without rolling onto inner feet. Push into feet to come up.Try to sit with sit bones.
Practice with hands on hips first. No flexion in this pose!Can practice with block between thighs.
SEAT OF POWER POSE AT WALL: for knee and thigh strength….Excellent for warriors and Utkatasana….Place block between thighs…feet facing forward….use big bolster lengthwise on floor below for a landing pad. Try to go at least two breaths beyond when you think you should come out of pose.
PRASARITA PADOTTANASANA: Come out of pose as if in Tadasana…Practice Dog and Cat tilt in half pose….
WARRIOR 2 with mula bandha for more seasoned practitioners…think of energy coming through feet and into the pelvic floor and through head and out…For Beginners say “Try to spread the mat”
WARRIOR 1: Tuck tail, lift thigh…If there is low back pain, the groin is not opening…If student is jamming low back, have them take their torso slightly forward….If balance is an issue, go for a wider stance…
PRACTICE AT WALL: #1: with toes on wall
#2: with foot on angled block at wall without grounding back heel
DON’T LET CHEST CLOSE!!!! KEEP HEART OPEN!!
WARRIOR 1 TO WARRIOR 3 – use chair in front of short end of mat…try not touching the chair as you shift your weight fore\ward…then touch chair….Start in Warrior 1 with arms overhead…it’s actually easier in long run than to try to keep weight steady as you lift the arms from hanging position
Practice Supta Padanghustasana 3 to achieve pelvis position (dropping) in Warrior 3…That will stretch the ITT — ILIOTIBIALTRACT ….you can massage the ITT on roller or with hand—-it is related to colon and helps with related issues.
Also practice Salabasana to gain back strength for WARRIOR 3.
Bridge Pose with Mula Bandha also helps.
In full pose: Front hip a little high to revolve from belly then drop down….
The afternoon ended with a glorious “stonehenge” savasana.On the way out to the car, I noticed glorious freedom in my fifty+ year hips! My pelvis had been freed Standing poses can do that to you ….
Saturday morning, I wondered what I was doing in a pre-natal yoga workshop; after all, I hadn’t had a pregnant woman in class for at least one year. Furthermore, my own pregnancies were more than 22 years ago! Something inside nagged me to attend the workshop though, and one thing I’ve learned from my years of practice is to listen to that voice, so I went. And how informative and fun, it was! I learned that I had A LOT of emotions that I’d been carrying with me through the years regarding my own birthing experiences as well as my experiences as a mother and my relationship with my own mother. There’s nothing like yoga to cause all the STUFF to rise to the surface! And what is the appropriate response? Be present; just be present and observe whatever happens, whatever you are feeling, or thinking, or dreaming. Accept the *stuff* as part of you and honor all of it. Let it go. Breathe and breathe another long slow breath, for all of us – you and your baby – and me and my fledglings.
The theme of the weekend, if there was one, was that pregnancy is a time of awakening intuition and pregnant women should be provided skills and opportunities to support the process of looking inward. This will support them as they enter motherhood as well.
The workshop was arranged with a mix of pre-natal information from an RN yogini, asana with Dariel and Maureen, and q & a with a practicing midwife yogini. We all had opportunity to wear the pregnancy vest that included enlarged breasts, belly, and baby weight sitting on the bladder. See Dariel’s photo on top above and below where she is demonstrating a great way for expectant moms to stretch their backs on a large physio ball placed on a chair. To the far left she is demonstrating a safe practice of hasta padangusthasana using chair, wall, and strap.
Maureen led us in a memorable wall sit. We each pressed an 8 inch physio ball between our knees, while keeping head and back on the wall. We attempted to keep it up for a full minute (thighs burning, I tell you). This would teach the pregnant woman how to breathe and focus even through pain. It was very effective and I will definitely use that in classes for everyone – students get ready! One of the great gifts of yoga and meditation is the ability to learn to stay present through turmoil and pain.
Lots of anecdotal birthing stories were shared among the participants throughout the weekend revealing the unique path each woman follows in the process of bringing forth a new life.
We enjoyed time on Saturday to walk in the gorge, or to walk along the street beside ripening vineyards, breathing in the intoxicating scent of grapes.
Sunday morning we covered deep relaxation, breath techniques, finding personal rhythm to assist the birthing process, several styles of vocal toning for Stage 3, and more asanas appropriate for supporting pregnancy.
By lunchtime Sunday, the weather turned rainy and we all wanted to chat and bond, or practice our own asana.
The grand finale of the weekend was Maureen’s gentle voice leading us through a pre-natal yoga class complete with guided centering and a final blissful savasana.
By the time I sat up, I almost wished I were pregnant again!