Thursday, June 30, 2011

Recent asana progress summary

Sirsasana - can do it at home okay, but in class I'm having trouble doing it towards the end of class. Takes me quite awhile to mentally prepare before going up, and once I have the pose I can't hold it for long, for fear of falling over and just not enough stamina or something. Claudia talked about 2 kinds of sirsasanas in her blog. I think I like the bregma version at home. In class I seem to do the crown headstand, or whatever version that will permit my feet to lift off the ground and provide a drishti so I don't get distracted by classmates behind me. Balance is a bigger issue than back curvature at the moment. Teacher told me to have my elbows closer together (because apparently they move apart once I'm up in the air. Who knew?) and that helped.

Jump backs - played with blocks today. I can get my legs off the ground with blocks under my hands for added arm length, yay! However, once I'm in lolasana I am completely stuck. I have no momentum for jumping back. Apparently I'm supposed to bend my arms to shift my center of gravity... hmm.. not happening right now. Arms are still not strong enough and ass is so heavy any shift in center of gravity (ie. shift of pelvis in mid-air) results in my body gets confused about what it can and cannot do. 2 solutions -

1. Keep practicing for many more life times.
2. Reduce size of ass (harder to achieve, but I think it'll be sooooo effective). I need a junk food police to hang out with me 24/7.

Forearm stands and handstands - yes yes I know they are not part of the Primary series, but I've been playing with them since I've discovered that achieving them is possible within this life time. Too chicken to do either of them without a wall within reach yet. I feel like my lower back isn't stable enough for me to hold these poses on my own, but it could be more of a mental block than a physical issue.

Urdhva dhanurasana - again, lower back feels unstable. I can feel stuff is moving around in the lower back spinal area, and that creeps me out. Can anyone share with me their experience working on this pose? I can't figure out if it's my spinal discs moving around or if it's my ligaments or whatever else is holding up my spine in that area. I can't distinguish actual pain sensations from soreness/discomfort from strong emotional feelings in this pose.

Chakrasana - exactly how important is the correctness of this move? I've been doing a judo/kung fu backward roll, using all momentum and trying to stay off the head completely. I think the "correct" way of doing this is actually going on the crown of the head a little bit. I haven't gotten any corrections yet, probably because the teacher thinks it's better to try to do some version than not to try it at all.

Bakasana - I seriously thought I'd totally have those pose down after 1 year of yoga practice. It's still difficult after 1.5 years! Another ass-heavy problem? I think I can hold the pose for about 3 breaths before my knees start sliding down my arms. Maybe it's a legs-are-too-heavy problem too.

Supta kurmasana - I can bind finger tips now! This is happening after I've been instructed to bind my wrist in all marichyasanas rather than just clasping my fingers together. I'm literally pulling my hand slightly out of its socket in every bind.. is that healthy for the joint? I can also cross my feet above my head, but not at the same time as binding my fingers. It's one or the other right now. Doing both simultaneously is considered as multi-tasking and too complex for my body/brain to handle.

General body issues - hips often feel over-stretched. Upper back between the shoulder blades are often sore; lower back feels a little lose, like it could use more strengthening. Sinus often feels kind of blocked. Neck always has issues. muscles around elbow area do not like the amount of chaturangas I put them through.  Gee, with this much complaints, my non-yogi friends for sure would advise me to stop with all this yoga madness. I'm hoping when I read this entry 6-12 months from now I'll be able to answer all of my own questions and provide better insights into whether or not my body issues have improved.


  1. For your headstand, try bringing the knees into the torso first before straightening them. I find that it helps stabilize the base and gives you a stronger foundation to lengthen your legs. Keeping the elbows closer together also helps, as is drawing awareness to the forearms and grounding them in. Once you're up, just breathe and don't let thoughts of falling get in the way! It happens to me too, so I totally know how you feel. The good news is, it gets easier, I held it for 10 breaths the other day :)

    Congrats on the Supta K bind!

  2. did you see Megan's video of this young Indian yogini? In one pose, she literally pulled her arm out of the socket. Go watch..

  3. Congrats on the Supta K bind! Congrats on binding the wrist in the Maris too!

    For jump-backs, work on holding lolasana for a few more breaths, or for as long as you can until your arms give out :-) The more comfortable your body gets with staying longer in lolasana (or in any other pose, really), the more intelligence it will acquire in the pose, and the more it will know what to do in order to do whatever is necessary to shift your upper body forward and shoot your legs back without touching the feet to the ground. I really believe in body memory/intelligence.

    You can work with the blocks for as long as you need to. When you become stronger, you can then graduate to doing the same thing without the blocks.

    Does this make sense?

    Lower back sensations in Urdhva Dhanurasana are a delicate issue. Generally (and I say generally, because I cannot see your UD, and cannot make any specific prescriptions, but generally...), if there isn't any sharp jarring sensation, you can assume that it is probably harmless, and it is quite likely that you are experiencing the sensations because your body is adjusting to a new alignment: Many yoga postures, especially backbends, have the effect of changing our muscular and postural alignment over time.

    Having said this, however, it can't hurt to pay attention to alignment while getting in UD. Try to keep the thighs spinning inwards (and feet parallel as far as possible; mine aren't). At the same time, work on trying to bring the chest and shoulders directly over the arms. This helps to ensure that you are opening in the upper back, and not compressing you lower back muscles to get into the pose.

    Also, working on jumpbacks also helps to strengthen the lower back muscles, which is a very helpful compliment to backbends. So everything comes together in the system :-)

  4. I know what you mean about jump backs...I'm in need of either choice #1 or #2 as well...possibly both! :)

    In bakasana...are you practicing in shorts? Try pants to get the hang of it. Skin on fabric sticks and it helped give me some time to sort out the actions of the pose without having to keep my knees from sliding off my arms.

  5. @savasanaaddict: thanks for the tips! I think my mind gets in the way more than anything else in headstands. That and my weird-shaped head LOL

    @Yoginicory - Yah that's how I feel with my wrists too. I hope that little girl doesn't develop joint problems when she grows older. I guess all the arm balances help strengthen the wrists so my hands don't permanently hang loose out of the wrist sockets (shudder)... maybe I'm the only Ashtangi in the world who's this paranoid :p

    @Nobel - thank you so much for all the juicy tips!! One thing: are you trying to say intellectuals who never exercise and move awkwardly have low body intelligence (B-IQ)? LOL :) I've had several Ashtanga teachers work with my UDs. They all say it looks fine, and they all adjust me the way you described. I think it could be a changing alignment thing that you mentioned.

    @Christine - I always wear pants and take full advantage of them. I would add velcro strips to my knees and upper arms if they were allowed :P

  6. Hey, sounds like you're doing pretty well on many fronts to me! Since I just spent the weekend doing workshops with Tim Feldman (who is great, if you ever get the chance to practice with him) I thought I'd share what he taught us about jumpbacks and backbends.

    For your jumpback, there was a lady who had a similar problem to what you describe - she couldn't get the momentum to swing back. What Tim said was to put your hands down a little forward of your hips when you're lifting up. Then you fold forward over your legs before lifting up and back. That will automatically give you some momentum because you're swinging forward with your upper body and that gives your rear some counterweight. Though until you're strong enough, you're most likely going to have to put your feet down for a moment behind your hands before kicking back. But at least holding it up until then will allow you to work on building strength.

    As for backbends and lower-back pain, Tim's remedy seemed to be mula bandha. I'm about to write a post about the workshop and will include his instructions on setting up for the backbend there, so I won't repeat it here, but mainly, he thought it was all about mula bandha protecting the lower spine, and building the strength to keep the length in the back when bending.

    So basically, all hard work, nothing else :) Dunno if that helps a lot but....for me it was inspiring at least!

  7. Thank you for the tips pakistaniashtangi! Seems like the answer to everything is always mula bandha :) Definitely more practice needed for me!!

  8. Depending on how often you do the ashtanga series, you will inevitably have some aches and pains. And you'll also find that whilst you can 'achieve' some postures, you may even slip behind in others ('but I could do this 6 months ago!' kind of thing). That's life and yoga!

    For the lower back pain, I would, radically, suggest you stop doing the jump backs and just step. Some may say they strengthen the back muscles, but only if the back muscles are strong enough to do it well - a poor jump back can leave the lower back sagging and going up and down - watch someone doing it badly to see.

    Forearm and stands - a mental thing and shoulders. I struggle on the mental thing with them and headstand.

    Other issues - you may also want to think 'what's my intention of doing this?' Ashtanga was apparently devised for young fit teenage boys. I'm a woman in my mid 30s. Do I have the body of a 12 year old boy? No. So, we have to ask ourselves, what's appropriate for our own body? I have been going to Ashtanga class for 10 years, and other yoga classes, and realise that yoga can be very much more than being able to bind, or being able to balance one's head!

    I'm moving towards only doing things that 'do no harm' to the body. Things that don't add unnecessary tension to the body - some tension and effort is good, obviously, if we're working with the body, but we hopefully aren't working against the body.
    Good luck!

  9. Find a good Iyengar teacher. They could help.

  10. Hi Anonymous, thank you for your suggestion. I don't really have access to good Iyengar teacher. I think I'll just have to pay more attention to the signals in my body.