Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Bound Revolved High Side Angle Pose or Parivrtta Parsvakonasana*

At TriYoga, London

Bound Revolved High Side Angle Pose is a complex pose with several major benefits:
* it strengthens the feet, ankles and legs;
* it stretches the Psoas and Iliacus muscles, which are located in tricky places and for this reason are often neglected;
* twisting reduces stress in the abdominal area and helps to digest food better.

If you cannot bind, there are two other arm options available:
option 1: stretch your arms like wings, one touching the ground and the other pointing vertically towards the ceiling;
option 2: position hands in a prayer in front of your chest with the opposite elbow touching the knee.

A few points to consider:
* make sure you don't claw the front foot toes. Spread them out and suck them onto the ground;
* energise the feet and legs so that you have a good balance. If the foundation is wobbly, you will fall over;
* make sure your balance is in the middle, not tilted towards your front or back foot;
* turn your head toward the ceiling only if the neck allows it, otherwise look straight ahead or down to the floor. The neck is a delicate area. To avoid headaches you should never twist or turn it too much. The head might fall off and roll onto the floor;
* once in the pose, make sure you do your very best to breathe. When you are stable, deepen the twist with every out-breath;
* try closing your eyes;
* I practise Vinyasa Flow yoga style, which is an uninterrupted flow of poses without any pauses between them. For example, a simple version of Vinyasa Flow would be from Warrior II to Bound Revolved High Side Angle, all done with the breath and without touching the ground with hands. I often finish the sequence with a Half Moon, Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend with Reverse Prayer Hands or Warrior III.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Niccolò Paganini Caprices

The Italian violinist and composer Niccolo Paganini, born in 1782, was at the time widely believed to have sold his soul to the devil. Paganini's technical skills were so astounding that no human was believed to be able to reach his level of mastery without being possessed by the supernatural.
Paganini's famous and very beautiful 24 caprices are rarely performed all in one concert; even most top violinists cannot master the technical skills and have the mental and physical stamina required to perform the whole set. It was rumoured that people fainted in concerts when Paganini performed the intense caprices himself.
Aleksander Markov, a Russian-born Jew living in the United States, performed all 24 caprices in one concert. It takes one hour and a half from the first to the last, each demanding a very high level of concentration, a lively temperament and superior technical skills.
The last caprice, the 24th, is among the most difficult ones in the set. Particularly the left-hand pizzicato at 3:00 min is only performed by those violinists with an unparalleled genius. Turn up the volume and enjoy

In a master class Markov gave on Paganini's violin techniques, he drew attention to the need to relax while playing technically demanding music. If the body is tense and stiff, the fingers will not move fast on the strings, the shoulder will not allow the bow to glide on the violin and the muscles will not remember the notes to play. When you watch Markov perform, notice the ease of his body and the precise and controlled movements while he remains completely relaxed. The whole of his ensemble is elegant and beautiful.
Markov made an important point that extends beyond playing Paganini. In yoga too it is vital to relax when striking a pose. The body will stretch further when it is not tense, it will shake less and the experience of exercising is more pleasant. For example, Reclining Hero (Supta Virasana) or Standing Revolving Balance cannot be done well if the body is tense. Make a conscious effort to relax the harder the pose gets, and try to find strength, power and grace both in the mind and in the body. Relaxation is the key to the best performance.

Paganini's 5th caprice (the bow bouncing on the strings)
Paganini's 6th caprice (elegant and extremely complicated finger work; Markov is not playing the violin, he is making love to it) 
The full vesion of Paganini's 24 caprices by Alexander Markov
Guitar and Violin Sonatas (Paganini composed lots of charming pieces for the guitar and the violin, which are excellent background music for yoga, cooking, reading and relaxing)

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Mountain Pose or Tadasana

If this amaryllis did yoga, the pose would be called the Mountain Pose.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Sunset at St Paul's Cathedral, London

On the very top of St Paul's Cathedral is perched the Golden Gallery. You will have to climb 528 steps to reach it. Many of the steps are knee-high and the stone is worn uneven from the hundreds of centuries of shuffled feet. When you reach the dome the stone steps are replaced by a vertical scaffolding that is wobbling and shaking with every step you take. Not many people make it to the top, but once you have overcome the paralysing fear and the sickening sensation of vertigo you are rewarded with a magnificent open-air view of London that spins 360 degrees.
I ventured up to the Golden Gallery in a skirt and high-heeled boots. Later, much later that day when I reached the solid ground again I half-expected the Cathedral's staff to give me a prize, perhaps a deep-tissue leg massage. Sadly no one obliged, so I hailed a black cab outside the front steps and headed for my favourite bar for some resuscitating champagne.  

Sunday, 29 July 2012

London in Black & White

The Shard, London Bridge

 The Fourth Plinth, Trafalgar Square

The Lloyd's Building, The City
The Lloyd's Building is famous for having all its pipes, cables, lifts, staircases and electrical power conduits built outside the structure.

Hyde Park

The Serpentine Gallery, Kensington Gardens

The Saatchi Gallery, Chelsea
The black shiny floor is, in fact, oil. The installation was created by Richard Wilson.

The Gherkin, also known as the Phallus, in The City

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Savasana Linked to Better Sleep

Savasana is a yoga pose practised at the very end of a yoga class. It is an easy pose of repose that involves only two things: lying down on the back and relaxing. Savasana, also known as the Relaxation Pose or the Corpse Pose, may seem too simple in concept, and indeed some yoga practitioners and teachers consider it irrelevant and even redundant, but Savasana's apparant simplicity is deceptive.
Several scientific studies have found that relaxation during Savasana has superb health benefits. Most notably, Savasana reduces sleep problems at night. Stress, anxiety and muscular tension linked to the nervous system are the main causes of sleep deprivation and insomnia. Deep relaxation during Savasana was found to reduce mental and physical strain, which in turn led to a dramatically improved sleep at night. Furthermore, those who participated in studies reported that better sleep also improved their overall enjoyment of life.
Linked to sleep, a separate set of scientific studies found that well-rested people tend to be slimmer. Sleep deprivation makes the body crave stimulants, such as sweets, sugary drinks and fast food (a humongous amount of sugar is added to fast and pre-prepared food). Excess sugar is, of course, one of the main reasons for weight gain. To keep the extra pounds off all that is needed, it seems, is a good-night sleep.

How to relax
Savasana doesn't involve any mysterious tricks or secret methods. All you need to do is lie down, make the body heavy and the mind still. Relax your limbs, internal organs, throat, face, back of the eyes, the brain. Use your will to take yourself into complete stillness and deep relaxation while staying fully awake. Savasana is a conscious state, not a slumber, but a conscious state free of concrete thoughts. The length of Savasana depends on individual circumstances, but most yoga practitioners seem to favour a 10-20-minute relaxation at the end of a class. If pressed for time, a 3 minute or even a 30 second Savasana is perfectly fine. After relaxation you will feel grounded and refreshed.

A word of advice
Most yoga books, CDs, DVDs, internet videos and yoga teachers recommend to use paraphernalia, such as scented candles, incense, music, sounds, eye pillows, blankets and cushions, to help the body relax in Savasana. There is nothing wrong with using props, but it is important not to become so dependent on them that without external help relaxing becomes impossible. Beginners often use an army of props to wind down, but once relaxation becomes familiar it is a good idea to wean yourself off and use them only when there is a heightened need. That way relaxation is possible anywhere at any time, without being dependent on external circumstances. It is also worth noting that paraphernalia are a very profitable business worldwide and are often marketed as necessary accessories, as if without a large collection of candles, incense and special music yoga is not possible. It is best to exercise your own independent judgement and not fall prey to clever marketing tricks.

Yoga as a natural medicine
The Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche apologised recently for neglecting to mention a list of rather nasty side effects caused by their prescription drugs. Prescription drugs often have a violent jolt on the body and most pills only treat the symptoms, not the cause of illness. With this in mind, a natural medicine such as yoga is an intelligent way to balance mental health and improve physical condition. The genius of yoga lies in its unique combination of physical exercises that link the body with the brain. Most people become healthier after taking up yoga and this has been noticed outside the yoga world too. In the UK, yoga is taught in primary schools and prisons. Doctors worldwide have started to prescribe gentle yogic movements as a medical treatment with brilliant results. Although many still sniff at yoga, an ever-increasing number of scientific studies are beginning to support what has been known inside the yoga world for a very long time: that yoga can cure sleeplessness, back pain and heart ache, make people slimmer, fitter and happier.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Leonardo da Vinci and Contrapposti

At Triyoga, London

Leonardo da Vinci - mathematician, engineer, architect, anatomist, sculptor and painter, also a bastard born out of wedlock, vegetarian and gay - did not paint anything significant, nothing to commend him as a genius, until he was in his 30s. In comparison, the other two geniuses had done their lifework and died just when Leonardo had got started as a painter: Raphael at 37 and Caravaggio, also gay, at 39. But when Leonardo did paint Cecilia, the mistress of Ludovico Sforza, Regent of Milan, he didn't only paint a brilliant painting, he invented a new style of portraiture.
Up until then, the subjects were traditionally painted in profile or in quarter turn. Leonardo put Cecilia in contrapposto, an asymmetrical turn of the body and the head. This Cecilia, an astonishing achievement with idolised features, is in Krakow's Czartoryskich Museum for any aesthete to admire.

Contrapposti in yoga
There are contrapposti also in yoga. The contrapposto I am showing above does not, to the best of my knowledge, have a Sanskrit name (Sanskrit is the traditional language of yoga). Yet, the pose is practised in yoga classes across the world, having all the elements of a typical yoga pose: a twist, standing stretch and balance. Twisting cleanses the internal organs and is particularly beneficial if you take drugs (anti-depressants, sleeping drugs, etc), eat animal products or drink alcohol; balancing strengthens the ligaments and tendons and helps steady the mind, and stretching keeps the body graceful, supple and youthful.

Four options:
I am listing four options from which you can choose the right one for yourself. Please remember that yoga is not a competition, so choose an option that is right for your body. Yoga flows from the heart; western sport with its competitive emphasis from the ego. The difference is huge.