Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Gravity is friendly!

I'm so glad I decided to write about my nervousness with inversions. Judging from the comments and emails I've received, many of you are facing or have faced a similar struggle.

For those of you who are still learning the pose, take heart. It felt impossible to me for a long time, but now I feel solid and comfortable in the pose - anywhere. I demo it in my classes and carry on a non-stop monologue while I'm upside down. I have conversations with my friends in headstand, I listen to CBC radio in headstand. If I could figure out a way to read a book in headstand, I'd probably do it.

I love the pose - but it took me a while to get there.

My first headstand came at a yoga retreat in 2000. I had been doing home yoga practice for years, with an occasional beginners Iyengar class but I never seemed to explore the inversions, or I managed to avoid them.

At the retreat, I looked around slack-jaw at all of these people standing on their heads, legs floating serenly. Someone at the retreat offered to teach me (brave woman!). It required two people and a very solid wall to get me into the pose and I lasted mere seconds. I hated it.

I didn't revisit the pose again until 2003 when I started yoga teacher training. Learning Sirsasana became an urgent project; I didn't want to be the only one in YTT who couldn't do a headstand! I taught myself using the wall and near the wall I stayed. I only started moving away from the wall after I began Ashtanga practice in 2007.

Within a year, I was able to come into the pose kicking up one leg at a time (or lifting my very bent knees). But I could do it in the middle of the room! The key to this breakthrough was learning to fall. I did this at the park and forced myself to fall out of the pose every conceivable way.

It took another year to learn the straight-leg entry. Only in the last two years has the pose started to feel completely comfortable to me. These days, I'm pretty happy holding Sirsasana for up to 10 minutes if I'm not already tuckered out from a long practice.

As I was reading through my blog archives trying to piece together this chronology, I stumbled across a post praising David Swenson's tips for Sirsasana A & B in his book. His comments on Sirsasana B were the Rosetta Stone that helped me come up with straight legs. Coming up with straight legs was the key that helped me feel truly confident doing the pose away from the wall. When kicking up, I had no control, but lifting up allowed me to find my centre and keep it.

Here's the snippet that triggered my lightbulb moment:
"In order to lift the feet from the floor, it will be necessary to transfer your weight behind you. This will actually create a momentary unbalancing. This unbalancing is what will draw the feet upward. The trick is to bring the hips back to the centre line as the feet rise."

See? Gravity is your friend! When you shift your hips slightly past your shoulders, the legs become light and coming up is easy (but then you need to shift the hips back). I discovered that if I moved slllloooowly and with care, I could regain my centre after the lift.

Today, as I was scanning Swenson's comments for Sirsasana A, I found a description of my precise problem in Pincha Mayurasana. For those of you who are curious about my alignment quirks in that pose, this sums it up nicely: "There is a tendency to push the ribs forward and collapse in the lower back..."

Swenson suggests recreating the pose while standing, keeping the ribs drawn in, the sit-bones dropped and the legs working. I might try this tomorrow.

(Angry Samurai doesn't like inversions either! Photo taken at our local history natural history museum)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


AEMG said...

I hope you don't mind a question motivated by my own practice, but did you ever have such a lightbulb moment with the exit from Bakasana? I saw a post where you had a video with Kino MacGregor. My gorgeous teachers have been helping me and I have been scouring the net for advice but I feel like I am just not "getting it". Thanks so much, Alex

Kaivalya said...

I had two lightbulb moments with this, actually. From two different teachers:

1) To get the legs into Bakasana from Tittibhasana, simultaneously push the floor away wtih the hands while lifting the hips up and 'pivoting' the inner knees on the arms as you bend the legs back. This came from my time with Darby and I'm still working on it.

2) For the actual jumpback from Bakasana, you need to think 'handstand' and shift your weight forward. After a tutorial from DR about this action, I remember blogging about it and saying that it felt like I was intentionally trying to 'faceplant', but shooting my legs back instead.

These days, I tend to emphasize the action of the lift more, imagining that I'm going to come into a handstand (i'm not even close, but that's what I'm going for) by lifting my hips toward the ceiling (pushing the floor away with my hands), and trying to float the legs back with more control. This all comes from basic skills my current teacher is trying it impart.

I think it goes back to the centre-of-gravity thing David Swenson talks about - the more weight you can bring forward, the lighter your legs will be and your upper-body and back strength will to kick in to support you.

Anyone else want to chime in here? Bakasana jumpbacks really aren't my forte, still working on them...

Megan Walker said...

Well, since you asked...

My bakasana jump-back epiphany was simply this: don't think, just do. I kept wondering about the technique, spent my time in the pose planning and strategizing for the exit. Then I happened upon (what else?) a blogger's home practice video of the bakasana exit. I was surprised to find that she simply shot her legs straight back, no bravado or extra lift. Just a flat landing in chaturanga.

I have since polished the technique somewhat and now I like to bend my elbows a touch and lift the hips skyward before jumping back, but really if you're just learning, there's not much to it. Just shoot the feet back and instinct takes care of the rest.

Dan B said...

i like your blog!
I am also working on coming up into headstand with straight legs - so far it has eluded me but i'm going to keep swenson's tips in mind! thanks!

AEMG said...

Thanks so much for the tips on the bakasana exit. I really appreciate you both taking the time to answer my question! Alex

Ragdoll said...

Angry Samurai's going to give himself and injury if he tries to get upside down with all that angsting going on!

And thanks for this post, really helpful. Though gravity might not be getting any party invites from me just yet, we can at least be civil to each other.

daydreamingmel said...

I'm with Megan! I can't completely do it yet (not without setting it up first anyway, making as Kino calls it "pretty bakasana"!) but you just lean forward and shoot the feet back - it's not really a jump as such. That's how Susan taught me and it works! oh and touch your feet together before you go. I don't know why, maybe it's to do with getting enough height - I've had enough knee/chin crash-landings to remind me when I'm not!
Now I'll have to try your Swenson straight legs tip too Kai - I thought I'd got it a few weeks ago but then it went away again, as these things do :)