Wednesday, February 2, 2011

An Ashtanga yoga practice report

Kurmasana and supta kurmasana are not my favorite poses among the Primary series. I feel pretty ridiculous, not to mention trapped in these two poses.  In martial arts, one of the major joint lock techniques is the "arm bar" -- locking of the elbow.  The idea is to apply pressure to your opponent's straight arm, about 2-3 inches above the elbow, pushing down while forcing the forearm to go in the opposite direction of how the elbow is supposed to bend normally.  When applied correctly, I've been told it only takes about 7 pounds of pressure to break the arm (don't quote me on this one). The first time I tried kurmasana, I felt like I was essentially giving myself a double arm bar using the weight of my own legs. Can you hear me scream "Panic!" and "Dislike!" in my head?  I guess the upside is that if I ever decide that I hate my arms so much I don't want them any more, I've now learned the perfect yoga pose to break them off, without the need for any external help! Hooray?

Supta kurmasana is even more ridiculous. I guess there is no longer an arm lock component (since we can bend our knees) so at least this pose doesn't scream "danger" to me. However, as if having my arms stuck under my legs do not make me feel trapped enough, I'm supposed wrap my arms around my elephant-sized legs and hippo-sized arse and clasp my fingers behind my back?  Just in case I can still manage some sort of faint breathing, I now have to hook my feet together at the ankle and try to put them over my head, so my face can be pushed further into the mat and cut off all air sources? Nice. A yoga pose for self-suffocation.

As you can imagine, I don't practice these two poses at all outside of class. Okay that's not true. I've tried them at home but felt ridiculous, or rather, labeled them ridiculous and hence felt that way.  We don't really do these 2 poses in class that often, but whenever we do them, my teacher often likes to come over, adjust my shoulders, try to stuff my arms further under my legs, and then walk behind me trying to get my hands to bind behind my back, with no success. With my face pressed into the mat, I can only manage a muffled whimper rather than a formal complaint.  This situation brings up in my mind an image of myself as a helpless turkey being stuffed and tied up, and I burst into laughter at the silly image. Well... the pose doesn't really permit me to laugh out loud, so imagine the whole stuffed turkey vibrating from stifled giggles. Sigh...  I must be the most ridiculous looking yogi in the classroom.

How I picture myself in supta kurmasana (minus the garnishes)
Anyways, with this much negative feelings towards these poses, I figured I won't experience much improvements with them any times soon. Surprisingly, at practice the other day, I felt that my heels could come off the ground briefly in kurmasana, with no pain on my elbows! Actually I've always experienced no pain with my elbows; I just imagined they would be painful if I applied more pressure to my arms with my legs. Again the teacher came to try to bind me in supta kurmasana, and this time, my fingers touched! Nope I have not lost any weight. Perhaps my legs have become squishier?

After class I went to the teacher to get my acknowledgement like a good golden retriever, and he said he was glad that prasarita padottanasana B and C have been helping me getting into the pose (by opening up the chest and shoulder muscles). What?! I never realized the connection between those poses and supta kuramasana! Sneaky Ashtanga system.. helping me improve in poses I dislike without me actually practicing them. Let this be a warning to you all: if you keep doing the entire Ashtanga primary series, regardless of your current flexibility levels, you'll accidentally get better at poses that you've never planned to master!


  1. Hahahaha, you're too funny!! ALL of us look like a stuffed turkey, if it helps :) For me, these two poses are mega-frustration triggers. The harder I try to straighten my legs and bind both hands and feet, the more pissed off I get. And yes, the longer I practice Ashtanga, the more I see how each pose prepares the body for the next one. Cool huh? :)

  2. Ha! thank you so much for sharing that, I guess I never recognized the connection either.... great picture of how you "feel" in supta, made me laugh!

  3. Savasanaaddict, I don't usually try very hard to get these two poses unless the teacher is standing right next to me. I guess that's what teachers are for: getting me to work on things I don't want to work on.

    Claudia, the connection is really sneaky eh? Always little surprises and treasures to be found in the practice.