October 6, 2012

Yoga Journal Estes: Pranayama & Why You Should Never Tuck Your Tail Bone. ~ Anthony Actis

My second day’s adventure began with a small personal delight.

The Colorado mountains certainly entice me on a regular basis, but this morning was special with a light dusting of snow. A slight hint at mother nature’s impending winter (and ski season!) left a smile plastered across my face for most of the day. Weather improved slightly in the morning with brilliant sunshine that welcomed all into a delicious new day.

Waylon, Lindsey, Jennifer, and I began our morning at the local, organic ‘Kind Coffee’ shop based out of downtown Estes Park. After my chocolate escapade yesterday, I felt it appropriate to enjoy a mexican hot chocolate: one of the best I have ever had.

After the pure bliss of cacao in my system, I reluctantly was dragged by the others to my day of asana at the Conference. Kidding… In actuality, it was awesome arriving for my first class of the day.

Rod Stryker started my day off with “The Secrets of Pranayama” class. My current pranayama practice is remedial to say the least. Once every other eon it strikes my fancy to consciously focus upon this practice at my home. With my asana practice the pranayama aspect is always prevalent, but not with the kind of intention that Stryker created at the beginning of class. The message was for mixed ears, but identified primary areas of one’s breath that are often in need of attention. First, the audible Ujjayi (victorious) breath is too often analogous to Darth Vader gasps during class. Elevation in intensity of this breathing practice instantaneously promotes the practitioner to an official space cadet and increases anxiety. When Stryker walked the class through this hyperbolic exemplification, I couldn’t even keep my face straight. The forced air upon my throat was hilarious for some reason, particularly knowing that this happens in yoga studios across the world on a regular basis. With a more muted level of Ujjayi breath, heard solely by the practitioner, one is able to relax and open up significantly more.

The class proceeded to discuss different vayus in the abdomen and chest that assisted in the flow of energy in one’s body. Various impacts such as elimination, assimilation, and revitalization are causally related to the flow of breath through these various regions. With partners and one person on their back, their mid-upper spine elevated slightly with a folded blanket, observing partners could easily see the physical impact of a practitioner focusing the breath upon different areas of the torso. The practicing partner began the breath in the lower pelvis and continued upward until it reached the collar bones. Partners then offered adjustment cues for areas possibly holding tension.

Wow. With the corrective suggestion from the girl next to me (who was there representing natural fitness, a totally awesome looking brand!) my inhalation expanded to levels that I had not realized in the past. Adjustments that decreased resistivity of breath, of energy, through the body allowed everything to relax further. It was a delicious class and a great way to start off the day.

I do have to admit, more raw chocolate was consumed (thanks a lot Theo and UliMana for the wonderful samples and exacerbating my habit!).

After a light lunch, my afternoon session with “The Mysterious Sacroiliac Joint: Anatomy and Asana” began with Dr. Judith Hanson Lasater. My first response: so nice to see a scientific approach brought into yoga, and so many eager learners in the audience! It seems rather that people bring scientific experience into the yoga practice, and perhaps value metaphysical justifications more than this type of knowledge. While I innately love science and also respect and value the tradition and history behind a lot of the yoga asana, it seems that the sweet scientific process is something that is often lacking in yoga (at least from my experience).

A spare skeletal back and hip section were brought in the class and Dr. Lasater quite effectively described, broke down, and justified various alignment adjustments to the this vulnerable area of the body. Her overarching message, and yes, listen, the sacral is an area  of stability not mobility. The days of teachers promoting a tucked tail bone, dropped coccyx, etcetera lead to vulnerable sacroiliac joints that do not congruently mate with the hips. This pervades into common asana poses. Her authoritative and boisterous voice led the class through multiple poses, stopping frequently and demonstrating corrective adjustments.

Uttanasana (forward fold), with a misaligned sacrum leads to the hips moving posterior to the ankles, which at my home studio is humorously referred to as promoting a nasty yoga butt, and not a nice yog-ass. Trikonasana (triangle) often is entered with the hips inappropriately widened, dangerously torquing knees and causing strain in the lower back due to misalignment in the sacroiliac joint. With rotation of the hips opening toward the direction of the fold and creating a “dance”(as Dr. Lasater stated) between the spine and the sacroiliac joint, neutral alignment may easily and safely be obtained throughout the body.

Her class was incredibly informative and I would absolutely recommend learning more about her! It also surprised me in that I am incredibly lucky to practice at a studio in Denver that regularly cues such alignment.

With some sautéed eggplant, zucchini, and pesto pasta, the evening’s glass of pinot noir, I have successfully completed another day in an amazing life. A life surrounded by beautiful yogis from across the country, engulfed in low-lying clouds and threats of snow, and time spent in the magnificent mountains of Colorado.

Ahh… time for some tea.

Anthony Actis
 is starting up the next chapter of his life as a graduate student in Hydrology. He recently spent five weeks driving 8600 miles from London, England to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia to raise money for The Lotus Children’s Centre in Ulaanbaatar and have himself a proper adventure. He is a scientist, an engineer, a philosopher, a yogi, an adventurer, sometimes a bit of a lush (although increasingly less often) and completely drawn toward everything associated with his native homeland of Colorado. He finished a 200-hr teacher training in Denver but wants to grow his personal practice and knowledge further before teaching (if he ever does want to teach). As a citizen of the world, he is enamoured with francophile culture, asking difficult questions, people watching, airports, being uncomfortably polite and courteous, early morning asana, existentialism, pain au chocolate, fake mustaches, awkward facial expressions and Oxford commas.


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