I practised for only two hours this morning. That's progress! There was minimal futzing, until I got to the backbends and then there was some hard core futzing because I'm still settling into a new routine.
I'm doing the shoulder opener that D taught in the workshops. I'm in it for a total of five minutes: 3 minutes for the initial hold, some variations, then back to the original position for another minute.
After that, I do a series of hip openers. If I have it in me, I try to do full vinyasa between each side (I didn't have it in me this morning!). Then I do Urdhva Dhanurasana 3 times, five breath hold, walking my hands in, but never to the point where my breathing becomes shallow.
After that, hang backs. Since I'm not dropping all the way to the floor now, it's occurred to me that in addition to making sure my feet are properly aligned, I can also take the 'regulation' hip-width stance (rather than the wider-than-my-mat stance I usually take). So I've been doing that. It feels different. I hold each 'hang' for five breaths then come up.
So, no more dropbacks. I miss them! But the only way I can drop back is with a wide stance and my toes pointed out. D & J are adamant about this particular alignment point: no splayed feet in backbends! If I was at their shala, I would be working on UD only and *maybe* hang backs, so I'm going to follow their rules in my home practice and see where it takes me.
In the comments yesterday, Kate asked about the 'Splayed Feet Lecture'. Here's the gist. I'm taking this from my notes, and my understanding of what D explained, seen through the lens of my own teaching and experience (any errors are my own).
On a physical level, pointing the toes out brings the legs into external rotation, which compresses the low back. When the legs are externally rotated, the gluteals contract and those muscles press together, 'trapping' the tail bone and impeding free movement of the pelvis.
When the pelvis/tailbone can't move, the tailbone can't 'tuck', which makes it more difficult to lengthen the spine and create space along the back body during a backbend.
Once I'm in Urdhva Dhanurasana, the main cue both D & J always give me is to tuck my tailbone, press down through my hands and feet and lift up through the hips (J usually places her hands on my pelvic heads and encourages me to press into her hands). This action is impossible with tight gluteals and very difficult, if not impossible, with splayed feet.
My tendency to splay my feet in dropbacks is likely due a lack of openness in my hip flexors, especially the Illiospoas group. Turning the feet out just *feels* easier and it *is* definitely easier in the initial hangback, but it can be harmful in the backbend itself.The remedy is doing hip openers to lengthen the hip flexors and learning to create length along the front lines of the body, from hips to shoulders.
D gave me some help in UD on Sunday, teaching me how to align my back, pelvis and shoulders before pressing up. He brought me into such a comfortable backbend that I didn't want to come down. It felt blissful. My breathing was full and deep. Anyone who has worked with me in UD knows what a miracle this is. I hate that pose. D had me smiling in it!
I haven't quite replicated this feat at home, but I'm trying. And the State-of-the-Backbends photos tell the story.
Look at my shoulders and hips last week, pre-workshop:
And this week (taken yesterday), post-workshop:
It's a small shift, but the shoulders are definitely more open. In particular, check out the thoracic back - there's more of a bend there, more of an opening in the chest.
On a more subtle level, any clenching or holding can create an energetic block, preventing the free flow of Prana. If the breathing is constrained in a posture or during movement, you need to find out why. In Astanga, movement is *always* accompanied by breath and stillness in a posture is supported by breath.
My greatest challenge in backbending has been finding a deep, free flowing breath (particularly a deep inhalation). When I'm aligned, it's there. When I'm not, I feel 'stuck'. When D helped me open up into the posture, there was more space for the flow of Prana and breathing felt easy (As D worked with me, he was listening for my breath and he noticed the tiniest fluctuation and commented on it).
And it all starts in the feet and hands, setting a foundation for the pose to provide an alignment that will allow the energy channels of the body to open up and Prana to move.
Seen in this light, I'm willing to give up the dropbacks in order to work within this framework. D has shown me how it works in my body. Now, I need to find it on my own.
I'll start with my feet.
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