Here’s Justin, demonstrating a potentially useful series of progressions for teaching people how to pull themselves off the floor from a backbend. Justin has some unique gifts and a specific practice background, both of which play a role in the appropriateness of these postures for him.
The first step is a sustained urdvha dhanurasana, with steady, slow “free breathing,” as Guruji used to say. Justin’s got a great backbend! No discrete angles anywhere, perhaps a bit in his knees. His wrists are under his elbows, elbows under his shoulders, shoulders over his wrists, and he maintains a steady gaze.
The second variation is to introduce dynamic movement to his urdvha dhanurasana via rocking. As a diagnostic, this is a great place to see if people are connected or disconnected through mula and uddiyana bandha. If their torso sways independently between legs and arms, the rocking might not be the right variation for them, and they may not be ready to work on standing up; or at least, they may be at greater risk for injury when learning to stand up. Here Justin’s hips move forward towards his feet, and consequently bring his arms with them.
The next step is to begin to chase down that transition phase just off the floor. Here Justin will drift forward and allow his hips to pull his hands onto his fingertips. I like a nice steady static 5 breaths here to encourage the person to really own this range of motion.
Justin also went above and beyond, and spent time developing a one-finger hold variation. From here it is a simple matter for him to pull forward onto his fingertips, and then half-way up, and then all the way up.
Justin is working on articulating and controlling every degree of the arc of movement. He spent some time pulling halfway up to the heaviest point of the movement, which is half-way, pausing there, and then lowering back to the floor.
He has been practicing 6x/week for several years, I believe, and for sure at least a year here at Portland Ashtanga Yoga, and he is very dedicated. He also has a phenomenal backbend he has developed over several years!
It’s useful to examine the extreme in order to reflect back to the middle. I would consider Justin’s backbending on the more extreme end of the Bell curve, which is a perspective that can be lost in a long-established Mysore room, which presents an exaggerated view of the “average” yoga student’s ability, expectations, and norms.
In this case Justin, although not hypermobile at any point in his back, is still pretty damn flexible! Also, I don't really see a ton of value in asking him to walk his hands closer to his feet.
So in the case of a student without his range of motion, the four stages outlined above would only differ by degree, intensity, and duration — but not in kind.
Meaning, someone can practice these progressions off the wall, or with feet elevated (more of this in a case study in a later post), or even with hands elevated.
imilarly to the overall Ashtanga sequences, you can introduce and practice the variations progressively and carefully, and after proficiency in early progressions is predictably repeatable.
This is the kind of nuance you can explore in a few upcoming events: a series of 6 classes on the Primary Series, held at Yoga Pearl. It will be a great way to learn the appropriate Primary Series — including backbend variations — for you.
Another great place to go deep with both Primary and Intermediate are the upcoming Saturations, held in Feb and April. We’ll also get into the myths and philosophy that enrich this practice.
Rebecca shows a few useful varieties of backbend. Generally in Ashtanga urdvha dhanurasana (upward bow) is practiced at the end of the particular series you practice. Just as you can cultivate a few varieties of downward dog, you can cultivate different varieties of backbend. Here are three archetypes I like to use at the studio. There are many more!
The first is like a sideways tear-drop. To rise up, she squeezes her rear and braces her belly (mula and uddiyana bandha). A squeezed rear drives hip extension, which Rebecca expresses with straight legs. Her braced belly prevents her low back from hyper-extending.
All this generally shunts the stretch into her thoracic spine and shoulders. This breed of bridge is useful to work on shoulder and upper back flexibility (more on Rebecca’s particular expression in a moment). In this case generally the head is neural, shoulders by ears.
In Rebecca’s case, this first backbend is more an expression of her shoulder, back, hip and quad flexibility (which is tremendous!) --- it’s not so much a useful developmental posture.
The second bridge is a more “classical” urdvha dhanurasana (upward bow). She uses her rear to move to hip extension, but she might relax it to allow more complete curve through the low back. Rebecca is here striving to curl her spine deeper and elevate her hips and ribs into the ceiling, which she might deepen by walking her hands closer to her feet. Her gaze falls between her hands as even her neck is curling. Generally this is the most common backbend I see in Ashtanga practices.
Finally, and just for fun, Rebecca tries to maximize her total spinal flexibility by actively curling her neck toward her low back. In this case, similar to utkatasana, she lifts her heels and pikes her hips to actively curls her low back toward her head. Ultimately she may bring her butt to her head.
This last one is pretty extreme, and is hugely reliant on genetic spinal disposition, especially lumbar hypermobility. It is not one I generally teach, or very rarely — may be appropriate for 3-4 people out of 500?
This leads to the other interesting observation, that I have helped people with this last extreme variation, and the people who can do it — they can do it within 2 weeks or less! It’s pretty incredible.
That said, it can be a useful approach for one end of the spectrum of people looking to explore their spinal range of motion.
I asked Rebecca to demonstrate for several reasons: her spinal flexibility far outstrips mine. She practices assiduously and diligently, and has for maybe 5 or 6 years. She is very gifted with flexibility in her back, shoulders, and hip flexors.
I have worked with Rebecca for several years now, mostly on shoulder, scapular, and spinal control and stability, rather than flexibility. So for her, the first chunk of postures in the Intermediate Series has been very helpful.
There are two lenses through which you can apply to the Ashtanga series — one is to focus on increasing usable range of motion. The other is to help teach body control and intentional articulation. The Ashtanga series are a great means of establishing a continuum, with strength on one side and flexibility on the other. A decent rule of thumb generally is stiff people move on the continuum to greater mobility and flexibility, while bendy people slide a bit more toward control and stability.
You can really dive into these details and more at a few upcoming events: a Primary Series 6-class series at Yoga Pearl, a great way to learn the appropriate Primary Series for you. You can enroll here: http://www.yogapearl.com/ashtanga-primary-series/
I’m also doing both a Primary and Intermediate Series Saturations (Feb and April), both great places to dive into this detail, as well as the myths and philosophy that surround this practice. More info here: http://www.portlandashtangayoga.com/events.html
The most challenging aspect of practicing handstands is that I've had to come to terms with the fundamental realization that I am poorly suited to the endeavor — a point that is made more clear every time I see myself do it!
One shoulder strengthening and balance-building drill is to climb up a pair handstand blocks; eventually, it's hoped, it develops the awareness for the one-arm handstand.
A lot of handstand (handbalance) practice involves the use of handstand blocks; it's fair to say they're literally essential to the practice. They can be terrifically fun, and offer novel stimulus, as compared to practice on the floor or on a bench.
As you can see, I am not stabilizing or keeping my shoulders elevated as I move from block to block.
Also note: that sharp point in my ribs, where my back is arched, is painful to see.
Regardless of my own shortcomings (it's a lengthy list), I thought some of you might get a kick out of this sort of thing.
Now you can learn from the abuse I have inflicted on myself during the last 5 or 6 years! I am offering a series of handstand classes in December on Sundays (December 4, 11, and 18 only) --- NEW LOCATION: Blue Ox Fitness.
Time will be 10:30a.m.–noon, so 90 minutes! Guided warm-up, hand-spotting and custom drills, guided finishing sequence. Class size capped at 8! Cost is $90. You can enroll here.
If you have wrist or shoulder pain, it might not be a great fit for you.
Also, more info on the page. Email me if you have questions.
This is a fun position to explore, and the sudden head movement requires me to really lock in to the sensation of weight shifting in the hands.
The specific sequence is handstand to small straddle — close the legs to a straight handstand and look up to the feet — open the legs back to small straddle and move the head to look back down — 3 repetitions and hold the last look-through.
The head shift precipitates a body shift, and for me, in order to maintain the handstand, I really have to calibrate hands, shoulders, midline and legs.
I also really love the feel of locking the chin into the chest and pushing up the shoulders!
From a conventional hand-balancing perspective, my faults (among others) include arching when I move to the small straddle and letting my knees soften.
I apologize for the late notice. The Portland Marathon will be held tomorrow, Sunday October 9.
There will be long traffic delays as many roads will close beginning 7 a.m.
Some of the big closures include the eastbound lanes of the Broadway Bridge, the westbound lanes of the Morrison and Burnside bridges, and large portions of Southwest Third and Fourth avenues, Southwest Main, Taylor and Salmon street.
Getting downtown on the 5 will be difficult; the 405 is the best option.
Also note that the studio is smack-dab in the middle of the race start.
I have posted the route map below. If you plan to come practice, and not go eat pancakes instead, please plan to park well outside of the race route and then walk.
"I have finite amount of time to practice, and I can see that I could either do the [practice] that continues to take me further away from myself but helps me avoid my fear of sagging skin — or I can practice the one that takes me home."
SUNDAY MYSORE TRAFFIC ALERT!
The annual Race for the Cure is set to take place tomorrow, Sunday September 18. This means downtown access and parking will be a real mess --- expect traffic closures from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m.
I’ve pasted the course map below. Park OUTSIDE the race loop and then walk, bus, or take the train to class --- or else you risk getting caught in the loop until 11 or noon.
Race organizers recommend using public transportation (TriMet buses and MAX are on Sunday schedules). Bridges near the event will all be open. The Broadway, Steel, Burnside or Morrison bridge will be open to allow access inside the event route.
Anyone wishing to avoid the event can use the Hawthorne Bridge, which is outside of the area affected by the race events.
IF YOU DRIVE:
Expect parking to be limited. If you are going east-west, the city transportation bureau recommends using Northwest Everett and Glisan streets.
Traffic in downtown Portland will be affected until around 10 a.m. The events draw tens of thousands of participants. Drivers and transit users should allow for extra time traveling to, from or through downtown.
POT-LUCK REMINDER AND RAIN CONTINGENCY PLAN
The pot-luck is set for tomorrow!
Sunday, September 18
NE Fremont St & NE 7th Ave
Portland, OR 97212
MAP LINK: https://goo.gl/maps/wQ4x8BZpmE82
However --- if it is raining by 11 a.m., it will instead be at our house in north Portland.
8849 N. Burrage
MAP LINK: https://goo.gl/maps/J2g6Pcob9Wq
See you there! And Katie --- no kale!
It’s a surprise pre-moon day email --- if only to ask you to hang out this Sunday for our fall potluck. Bring some food, any relevant significant others, and/or any spawn (there’s a playground).
Sadly, we’re also once again saying goodbye to Johnny Haag, who’s set to depart for India in a few weeks.
It will also be a great chance to marvel at everyone in their “regular” clothes.
It’d be great to see you there --- no RSVP required.
And to carry forward the Portland Ashtanga Yoga tradition, no kale.
Fall 2016 Potluck
Sunday, September 18
NE Fremont St & NE 7th Ave
Portland, OR 97212
MAP LINK: https://goo.gl/maps/wQ4x8BZpmE82
We will set up near the playground, which is near the southwest corner.
Moon days: this Friday, September 16, and Friday, September 30
Questions about upcoming class days and times? The schedule is online here!
Speaking of upcoming class times, please note: as we are closed Friday, September 30, our Last Friday Led Primary Series will be Thursday, September 29. There is a new class time: 6:30-8 a.m. No Mysore class following.
Jason owns and directs Portland Ashtanga Yoga.