Monday 20th March - Dancer's Pose
52@50 no. 24 – Visiting the British Library
I’ve walked past the British Library many times, noticing the contrast between its sleek, modern lines and the ornate Victorian design of St Pancras station next door. I’ve been curious about it but, until this weekend, I’ve never explored it. I booked myself on a guided tour around this iconic building and this is just a little of what I learned:
It houses over 150,000,000 items (13,950,000 books 824,101 serial titles 351,116 manuscripts 8,266,276 philatelic items (stamps) 4,347,505 cartographic items (maps) 1,607,885 music scores 6,000,000 sound recordings!!)
It was built in 1998 – the largest public building built in the 20th century.
It has 14 floors – 9 above ground and 5 below. All the books are stored underground and require over 625km of shelves.
A copy of every book that is published in the UK is housed here. And now we are in the digital age, every website and blog is recorded and accessible here. You could even go to the British Library and find this very blog saved for posterity and future reference!!
You can’t borrow a book from this library and take it home - it is for reference only. If you want to look at a book you order it from the catalogue and, within about an hour, the book is located, retrieved and brought to one of the Reading Rooms for you to study – a bit like at Argos!
It is home to many treasures such as the Magna Carta, the Lindisfarne Bibles, the score of Handel’s Messiah and the world’s oldest book, the Diamond Sutra, printed by wood block printing technique in 868!
It’s free to enter the library and look around, it’s free to join the library and use the books, it’s free to view the various exhibitions and the events and talks, and it’s free to find a table, plug in your laptop and sit and study. You just need enough money to buy yourself a coffee at one of the cafes. It is an amazing space offering an amazing service and I intend to become a member and use it.
The British Library, built to resemble a ship, with it's neighbour St Pancras in the background
Inside the British Library
A Bit About... How to do Dancer’s Pose
In my classes this term we have had a focus on backbends. To ensure there is an even arch to the spine rather than it being taken mainly in the lower back, we have been practising lengthening the front of the thighs, the front of the hips and the front of the pelvis and descending the tailbone and back of the pelvis towards the heels. We have practiced Half Frog Pose (lying on the front with the forearms on the floor and reaching back to catch one foot), Bow Pose (reaching back to catch both feet and lifting the chest and thighs – see last week’s blog post) and Bridge Pose (lying on the back and lifting the hips as high as possible).
This week we will be moving on to Dancer’s Pose (Sanskrit name Natarajasana). It is an elegant balancing backbend, with a shoulder and chest opener and a thigh stretch too.
Here are some step-by-step instructions so you can practice at home. Like every pose, we need to keep practising it to feel it grow, change and progress…
- Stand in Mountain Pose (Tadasana). Spread out your toes and root down through your right foot, lifting up the kneecaps and thigh muscles to help you feel steady and strong.
- Bend your left knee and bring the heel towards your bottom.
- Reach back with your left hand and catch the outer edge of your left foot. As you do this don’t allow the bent knee to move forward and the bottom to move back - if you try to backbend like this all the bend will go into your lumbar spine and it will feel uncomfortable and compressed. Instead, draw your tailbone down towards the floor, lift the front of the pelvis up and move the bent knee back a little, thereby lengthening your thighs and front of hip and keeping your lower back spacious and long.
- Now push your left foot back into your hand and up behind you, creating the back of the ‘bow’ shape of the pose.
- Lift up your right arm to eye-level and stretch your chest forward and up too, creating the front of the ‘bow’ shape of the pose.
- Keep the hips and the shoulders square, trying not to twist the torso.
- Try not to tip the torso forward too much or look down. Instead look up to the fingertips of the right hand – you can join the thumb and first finger in Chin Mudra if you like.
- Breathe deeply for about 3 breaths then carefully release the foot and slowly bring it back down.
- Repeat on the other side.
Top tip: keep your eyes fixed on one point – either on your joined finger and thumb or on a spot on the wall. If your eyes wander so will your pose!
Modifications: If you have difficulty in balancing you can stand facing a wall, just over an arm’s length away, and walk the hand up the wall to steady yourself as you come into the pose. If you can’t reach your foot then you can loop a strap around your foot and clasp that. Over time and with practice, your balance will improve and your thighs and front of hips will lengthen so you can reach your foot.
This Week's Recipe... Raspberry and Lemon Muffins
Yesterday afternoon I fancied something sweet to have with my afternoon cuppa, so I made these muffins. They're easy to do and quick to cook so I didn't have to wait long to enjoy one with my tea - they're delicious if they're still warm. Yum...
I used half-measures to make small batch but to make 12 muffins you will need...
250g/9oz self-raising flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
100g/3½oz golden caster sugar
1 lemon, zest only
2 free-range eggs
150ml/5fl oz natural yogurt
2 tbsp milk
And here’s how to make them…
Pre-heat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. Line a 12-hole deep muffin tin with paper cases.
Melt the butter in a small pan over a low heat then set aside to cool for a few minutes.
Sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl and stir in the sugar, raspberries and lemon zest.
Beat the eggs then beat in the yogurt, milk and melted butter until well combined. Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture and stir the egg mixture in, mixing lightly with a metal spoon.
Divide the batter between the muffin cases. Bake for 20 minutes or until well risen and golden-brown.
This Week's Advice from a... is in honour of the Forget-Me-Nots that have just come out in my garden. I adore these little flowers. They self-seed themselves around and, with no care and attention from me, make my garden come alive in spring. My borders are full of colour and I pick, pick, pick them to put in little vases all over the house.
This Week's Musical Offering... a 15-minute track that seems to go well with Sun Salutations, standing poses and slow seated sequences too. It's called Nataraja and it's by Jai Uttal and Ben Leimbach.
And finally, This Week's Video... is about how dancing is helping rugby players avoid injury - it's another reminder how important it is to keep everything moving and as supple as you can.