Tuesday, April 20, 2010


By yesterday evening, my quads were VERY sore. In my city, we have these special buses called ‘kneeling buses’ to accommodate physically challenged passengers. Most of the time, the driver just lowers the entrance ramp a bit for elderly riders, so I call it the ‘geezer ramp’ (very politically correct of me, eh?).

When the bus pulled up last night, the driver must have seen the look of despair cross my face as I beheld that huge step-up. Helpfully, he lowered the geezer ramp, so the gimpy Ashtangi could climb aboard without ow-ing her quadriceps. Now, my EGO hurts too! ;-)

I was feeling more than a little bit tender this morning when I stepped into the Shala for my practice. I took it easy and moved very carefully through the sun salutations and standing. By the time I got to seated, Teacher R had taken the reins from Teacher P.

My goal for the today’s practice: incur no ‘Driste Penalties’. Mission accomplished, though she did tell me to keep my head up and look forward during jump backs. She says this will help me jump back, but so far, it just feels *harder* to do it this way. I will persevere.

The first Chakrasana came up and I paused, decided I would ask. Following the rules of effective negotiation, I set my price very low. I told Teacher R: “I can’t do Chakrasana today. My neck is too sore.” From her stance at the front of the room, I could tell that Teacher R was giving me a ‘look’ but since I didn’t have my glasses on, I couldn’t see WHICH look it was. Was it the nodding, ‘Okay, don’t do Chakrasana’ look, or was it the ‘Eye Roll’? It’s always possible she was ‘Raising a Skeptical Eyebrow’ too (she does that). By the time she walked over, I could see she was laughing.

So we had a good chuckle and settled on an assisted Chakrasana, so I can get the hang of landing on my knees instead of my feet. This will take the pressure off my neck. She helped me with the second one. I gave the third one a go without assistance, but gave up when I couldn’t roll without tweaking my neck. I pretended the fourth one didn’t exist.

I also forgot to do Paschimottanasana after my backbends, which is a weird pose to skip since I *heart* it. I guess I was just ready for my practice to be over. It was one of *those* days.


Anna posted a comment thanking me for the notes from the Kino workshop. It makes my heart glad to know that other people (particularly home practitioners who don’t have the advantage of a Shala) benefit from my blog. She asked me if I would post more detailed notes from Sunday’s workshop at Shala North. To be honest, I didn’t think anyone was really reading the notes. I’m happy to share what I learned.

Please keep in mind, these notes were taken through a very specific filter: my experience. I’m sure I left many things out, but these were the elements of the workshop that were most helpful to me.

Standing up, Dropping Back Workshop Notes

Sun Salutations: We started the workshop with 5 Surya Namakara A’s and 3 B’s, which I really appreciated. DR emphasized worked the rotation of the pelvis forward in Virabhadrasana I and tucking the tailbone. DR reminded us that sun salutations warm up the hips and the legs, which is important for backbending.

Urdhva Mukha Svanasana: We worked with a partner to focus on key aspects of Upward Facing Dog.
- Push down through the tops of the feet to engage the legs. Focus on pressing down through the big toe and especially the pinky toe - this will help internally rotate the legs, which releases the glutes.
- Partner work: while one person was in Up Dog, the other poked the calves, hams and finally the glutes (result should be: hard, hard, soft). *When the legs engage, gluteus maximus relaxes*
- Bottom edge of the pelvis (tailbone) moves forward, top edge of the pelvis moves back

*There should be no pressure or pain in the sacrum - create space!*

Ustrasana: Camel pose, focus on working the legs
-Press the legs/feet into the floor actively to move the pelvis forward
-Keep the gluteals soft and lift the spine out of the hips
-In this pose, press down through the big toe mounds to encourage internal rotation

The Bandhas:
-Mula Bandha: creates a natural pelvic tilt, pulling the tailbone down (try it! it’s subtle, but you’ll notice the tilt)
-Uddiyana Bandha: combine with the chest-lifting action (very similar instruction to what I learned in Kino’s workshop)

Standing Backbend: Root down through the feet, push the hips and thighs forward until you feel the stretch in the hip flexors. Keep the front thighs as forward as possible. The gluteals may engage a bit, but focus on the action in the legs. Remember, we’re working against external rotation. Root down through the big toe mounds to encourage the legs to internally rotate.

*The chest lifts because the feet push down*

Integrating this work into Urdhva Dhanurasana:
-Tuck the tailbone and lift the hips up
-The knees move forward
-Press down through the feet (especially the inner feet) and find a stretch in the front of the hips (hip flexors)

Positioning of the arms: This part is important because when the shoulders are not strong and correctly aligned, injuries can occur.

Try this: Reach your arms upwards and bend your wrists as if you were doing a handstand on the ceiling. Start with your fingers pointed back.
-Turn your fingers to point inward (toward the median line), drawing your biceps inward. Observe the action in the shoulderblades (the shoulderblades will move toward one another, toward the spinal column)
-Next, turn your fingers out, so the biceps draw outward. In this position, the shoulderblades broaden, moving away from the spine.

The latter is what we want. The action is very subtle - see if you can do this while reaching your fingertips toward the ceiling, palms facing in (it helps to think about drawing the shoulderblades together, then apart).

Laghu Vajrasana: Exploring the action of the legs (engaging the quadriceps and the Bandhas). We worked with partners for this pose and I did it about a kazillion times (which probably accounts for my very sore quads, but I was having so much fun!). Near the end of the exercise, I could almost come up by myself, but my legs were like jello!
I learned to decisively engage my legs coming up and not to let go of my ankles until that engage occurred (otherwise, I started flailing my arms around and falling over).

Urdhva Dhanurasana: We did more partner work and received a few tips
-The action of the legs is similar to those of a skiier with knees bent, pushing off.
-Pull the pelvis forward, bringing more work into the legs
-Try walking your hands down and wall and back up
-To work on standing up from a backbend, try dropping your hands back to a wall, then engaging your legs to left back up (you won’t have as far to go, but you’ll still experience the action in the legs and Bandhas)

(A note from Kai: Another way to mimic the action of the legs in Urdhva Dhanurasana is to sit in a regular chair, and press the heels into the floor as if you were going to push the knees forward and the chair backward. This works even better when sitting on the edge of a bed, because there’s no way you’re going to get that sucker to move!)

Rocking up to Standing:
-If being ‘upside down’ is confusing (in terms of knowing which direction to rock), try coming into Urdhva Dhanurasana with your chest facing the wall, then rock the chest toward the wall, rock the knees forward (repeat).

Alignment vs. Action: Get the action first, even if the alignment isn’t perfect. Try different ‘wrong’ alignments, if they help you get the action.
-wide feet
-turned out feet
-bending the knees excessively to bring the hands to the floor


ArkieYogini said...

Thanks for more of your workshop notes. I've enjoyed reading them. Much better than the scattered notes that I usually take at workshops. :)

I like the suggestion for using the wall to practice dropbacks. Since I had to learn mostly on my own, I used the wall A LOT. I walked up and down using the wall for months until one day I had the courage to drop back on my own. Then not long after that I stood up.

I like the tip for pressing down through the big toe in standing backbends. I need to focus on what my feet are doing more. Think I'll try this in practice tonight.

Claudia said...

thank you for the notes, and I like them filtered by your experience :-)

Anna said...

Thank you!! Something is happening with my backbends since working with them with help of your workshop notes (both Kino's and these!). Tomorrow I will try using the wall so that I work even more with my legs.I really need to work on my strength! Thank you for sharing!!!

Kaivalya said...

I used to home practice as well and the biggest change that came into my backbends at the shala was the action of my legs.

Right away, my teachers asked me to push more weight into my feet. When I asked why, they said "You'll never stand up if the weight isn't in your feet". (this didn't fully make sense to me until the workshop last weekend).

Physically, it felt like I was ending my knees more and doing 'less of a backbend'(which totally blew my mind, because it was completely counter to everything I had been working on), but recently, I've been walking my hands in, which brings in more of the 'bend'.

Yes! :-) You're not the first person to remark that walking up and down the wall was a good way to start working on drop backs/stand ups. If you do it right, it mimics the muscular action required to do the 'real thing', so you develop some muscle memory as well as strength.