The Plantain Leaf and the Mirror

FullSizeRenderThe fourth day of the intensive. From the beginning Geetaji has been gearing us toward pranayama. “To do pranayama you must be light in the body, because the Pancha Pranas are within, and you have to take care of that first.” She continued to describe how we fear darkness, being alone, without a sense of protection or direction. The fear complex is so instinctive that when we sit to practice, if we have no background, we don’t know what to look for. And that is why, in our practice, she explained, we move from the known toward the unknown, we begin with what we can see and feel. The arms and legs are very close to you, you can actually see them.  And so she began to unravel the material that would lead toward pranayama.

The emphasis during the first few days was on the extension of the arms to move the side body and hence gain access to the spine. “Cinch the side back muscles in to get the lift of the armpit, take the arms behind the torso and cinch them in” as she tapped Raj Lakshmi’s back with her pointer. “Without compressing the spine, widen the paraspinal muscles”. Then, with the arms overhead, we were to take the arms behind the ears while dropping the upper trapezius away from the ears. Geeta did not have to say that the diaphragm opened and widened, I could feel the extension, the space. I knew that I would be feeling the imprint of this work in my shoulders and arms for the next few days!

Today she used the image of the plantain leaf to reinforce how the back muscles should widen away from the spine, equally, everywhere on the back. We were in Ardha Uttanasana. “Now take the sternum toward the floor, as if your face is in your sternum and you are looking into a mirror on the floor.” What a fabulous feeling! Again the abdominal area widened along with the back, and the entire spine moved seamlessly in toward the chest. Now the cinching of the bottom back ribs makes sense. “The sides of an old leaf will curl down, do not let that happen, keep it fresh and lifted”.

Earlier in class she introduced the concept of how a muscle will centralize or condense when the prana does not flow through it. Weight lifters have bulky muscles, condensed and shortened to strengthen them. Guruji did not have the body of a weight lifter, his muscles were not visible, and yet he was incredibly strong. In Tadasana, watching the back of Birjoo’s legs on the monitor. While it is a basic and classic instruction, to take the calf muscle back and to take the top of the thigh bone back, under her tutelage this became a deeply absorbing experience in sensation. “As if the skin were a cloth and we were to touch the cloth with the muscle”, her sparkling eyes darted over the crowd. She asked us to widen the back calf and thigh equally from the center of the leg toward the outer thigh and toward the inner thigh so that the muscle fibers do not get “stuck”. I was gratified, as I have taken issue with the common instruction to take the inner thighs back. It seems like everyone just internally rotates the entire leg and projects the inner knee back. “The eye in the back of the knee must also widen.” I remember when she laughingly chastised us, several years ago, that we spend more time putting makeup on our eyes and that we should take equal care to the back of the knee.

“The mind has to come to the knee, to feel if both sides are equal. Energy and consciousness is one brain.” I recall Abhijata’s words from the day before. Truly, as we continue to work in this way, when we do sit down for our pranayama practice, we will have cultivated a sense of direction, we will not be in the dark. The landscape of the inner body will be more familiar, and the outer body will be a stable container, well molded and shaped. Energy and consciousness is one brain when I am alert, aware. Hatha Yoganusasanam.


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