Richard Freeman Immersion (Part I)

Last week, I had the honor to attend Richard Freeman’s 6-day immersion and 2-day workshop. I’ve taken a few workshops with him before, but have never been able to spend an entire week with him. He stands tall, and has a demeanor of a wise man. His smiling eyes always seem to say that he has secrets about some magical yogi powers.

In the mornings, he led the class 3 hours each day on asanas based on the Ashtanga vinyasa system, moving slowly from one pose to the next. The first day, we only got through to Janu Sirsasana A. Yes, that was how long we maintained in each pose. My legs were badly cramping up when we finally came out of Prasarita Paddotanasana A,B,C,and D. The last few days he even took us through some of the Intermediate series postures. My back has never, never felt so good in all those backbends! The trick is…coccyx in and forward, pubic bone in and back (more will be described below). We even tried Pincha Mayurasana, and it was my first time ever to come up by myself, with a wall behind me of course and my feet resting on it, of course.

Afternoons were spent on breathing exercises and pranayama, chanting, meditation, and philosophy. His take on philosophy allowed me to absorb 50% of what he said (I don’t think I can fully 100% understand philosphy), since he often used metaphors and comparisons to real life and physical experiences.

For the next few posts, I have attempted to capture the highlights of the immersion. It is long, so I am breaking it down to 3 parts. Part I is on asana, Part II is on breath, and Part III is on Philosophy & Others. Enjoy!

ON ASANA

1. The Golden Coccyx and the Pubic bone. I lost count of how many times Richard would say “push your pubic bone back, and your coccyx forward,” as if they want to greet each other in the middle. I’d say about at least 500 times the entire 8 days. But I suppose this is the action of what we call mula bandha, or the root lock.

2. PC muscles. Or the pubococcygeus muscles, which stretches from the pubic bone to the coccyx. When activated, we call it mula bandha, and that is why we always want to coccyx forward and the pubic bone back to squeeze these muscles.

3. Prana vs apana. Prana is the upward lifting force associated with inhalation, while apana is the eliminating force associated with exhalation. Richard would say to push the prana down to the navel level, and apana upward to the navel level so the two opposing forces can meet. It’s hard for a beginning yoga student to grasp the concept of prana and apana and how to feel for those, but this is ultimately the uddiyana bandha.

4. Uddiyana bandha. Richard described uddiyana bandha as an invisible belt across the lower abdomen. It actually does lie across the area where you would normal wear your belt (unless, of course, you’re wearing “grandma’s pants). That particular area is the lower part of your transversus abdominis muscles that helps keep your lower abs toned. The misunderstanding about uddiyana bandha is that you’re sucking in your entire belly, which makes it very difficult to breathe. We are simply toning that lower part of the abdomen below the navel, keeping our psoas and quadratus lumborum relaxed, and the entire pot belly free to fill with oxygen.

4. Perfect alignment. If you have perfect alignment in every pose, then you are not “normal,” as Richard would say. If you have perfect alignment, then your prana and apana have been cleared, and you are already enlightened. Might take 1000 years, or 10,000 years, or 100,000 years for you to get to that point if you are normal.

5. Let your buttocks shine. Yes, he really did use this phrase whenever we’re in downward-facing dog. More specifically, “let it shine so bright that you need sunglasses to do yoga.” Now we know how wise our butts are supposed to look in downward dogs.

6. Spread your kidney wings. Another one of his famous phrases, indicating to breathe deeply into your thoracic spine and expand your entire upper torso. He especially likes to use it when there are any poses that require raising the arms overhead. Even used it while we were doing backbends, which is actually a very important reminder since most of us tend to collapse our backs in urdhva dhanurasana.

7. Look down your nose like you’re British royalty. In poses where the dristi is at the nose (e.g., upward facing dog), he would always say to lift the chin and look down the nose as if you’re royalty. “This is raja (royal) yoga after all!”

8. Carry your heart (or some flowers) in your hands. Richard would use this when we do the sun salutations where we raise our arms up in ekam. Yoga is supposed to be gentle. Just because you are lifting your arms above your head doesn’t mean you have to clasp it tightly, Gently does it, and your palate relaxes, triggering the parasympathetic system.

9. We all think too much, that’s why yoga is hard. Richard was demonstrating bakasana for us, and he told us that the pose actually isn’t that hard, we just think too much about it, and our mind makes it hard. Yoga is about seeing things as they are, and not let the mind take over. I’ve seen 7-year old kids do bakasana like it’s a piece of cake, jumping into bakasana from downward facing dog like a piece of cake, all because they don’t think about it. They just do it.

To be continued…

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