Saturday, 27 February 2010

Back bends, current state of play

Off work for the next couple of weeks.

The plan is to practice the two main Vinyasa Krama Back bend sequences IE. The Bow Sequence and the Vajrasana Sub routine from the Meditative sequence. I'll also throw in the Tadasana Hand variations behind back sub routine from the On your feet sequence. I want to incorporate some of the Venkatesh excercises that Boodiba has been sharing, the standing arches from last year which should follow on nicely from the Tadasana sequence, plus the Hang back exercises for Drop back and Kapotasana from last week. Finishing will be a pretty standard extended
Paschmottanasana, Sarvangasana and Sirsasana etc.

Thought it would be a good idea to take a look at my current state of play so that I can compare my Back bends at the end of the fortnight.

It's a long video so here are the times for the different sections to enable jumping around.

0:00 Vinyasa Krama hands variations behind back
Love using this subroutine as prep for back bends, I used to include it before the Sury's when I was doing Intermediate as well as when I went through a phase of doing drop back's at the beginning of the practice. The different hand positions seem to open up the different areas of the back nicely

3:30 Venkatesh standing arches
Need to review Boodie's notes and video's again here. I seem to remember she was hanging in these for a minute, I manage about 15 seconds tops, be interesting to see if and how much this improves by the end of the fortnight.

5:00 Drop back
Thanks to Boodie these have come on over the last couple of days. I misunderstood her instructions and started to bend my knees from the beginning. Though not the idea, it did make the importance of getting the knees as far over the feet as possible finally sink in. I'm aiming at a similarfeet/shin angle as in Pasasana. Add this to the riding the spring idea from a few weeks back and It's given me the back support and confidence to hang back. and control my descent more. Plus my feet are staying pretty straight.

6:00 Coming up
Work needed here. I think the knees over the feet is key to stop the feet turning out but I seem to have to completely relearn the hip action to come up. the second attempt on the video gives me hope, though the feet do move slightly.

6:48 Kapotasana
Big surprise here as I haven't done Kapo for a month. The hang back exercise seems to really help. I'm getting my hips as far forward as possible to try to employ the 'spring' support and while hanging I have the time to keep trying to push my hips forward. Getting this Hang back in Kapo is exciting me more than grabbing my heels at the moment. I was surprised how deep I dropped in too, was thinking it would take a couple of goes. Lot's of work needed here though.

Yes I got my heels, but I think I can improve it by pushing up more, straightening my arms, breathing better. A voice in the back of my head is whispering 'ankles, ankles' but I hardly dear listen. Besides, it should be whispering "breathe, breathe'.

One thing I've noticed about both the Drop back and Kapo is the use of the wall. Those three steps away force you to drop down closer than perhaps you might do with a full mat to play with.

8:30 Walking in on Urdhava Danurasana or Ardha Chakrasana to chakrasana
This is actually in Vinyasa Krama in the Supine Sequence, Ramaswami has this to say.

' As a variation you can bring your palms closer to your feet during exhalation and keep your back arched. Stay in the position for three breathes, stretching and lifting your tailbone at the end of the inhalation.'
The Complete book of Vinyasa Krama p113

God, a ten minute video takes forever to load on YouTube, wont be doing that again. Here's a quick, minute a half version.

It strikes me, watching this all the way through, that, rather than thinking about grabbing the ankles in Kapo or Chakrasana or probably even getting my feet straight, I should be thinking about the breath, still ragged, unsteady and at times forced. Would be nice to make this video again, two weeks from now, and find long smooth steady breathing throughout.


  1. Question--before these backbends, do you do a warm up?? Just wondering. I'd like to add some backbend work on top of my practice, but I don't want to do it, if it requires a ton of warm up. What do you do? Or does this come at the end of your practice?? Thanks!


  2. I use the bit at the beginning of the video, the hands in different positions behind the back as Warm up. I then do the Vinyasa Krama version of the Suns salutation. In that version you raise your arms up then bend back before going forward and through the salute as usual. Also you stay in each position for three breathes. That gives you a nice back stretch in Upward dog. I did that for awhile and then went straight into drop backs thus shifting them to early in the practice rather than right at the end.
    Then of course your drop back's drop you into Urdhava Danurasana which you can play around with going up and down a few times, holding it a little longer, perhaps walking in a little etc. All that gives you enough prep for exploring the IAshtanga 2nd series backbends, Uttrasana and Laghu Vajrasana and perhaps trying Kapo but, say, from the ground up rather than dropping back into it.

    Another thing I used to do was after my usual Ashtanga Standing I would slip in Natarajasana after Utthita Eka padasana and then Eka pada raja kapotasana (use a strap to hold the leg perhaps) I use them as preps for Hanumanasana (re. the VK Hanumanasana sequence) but i also found they made good drop back preps.

    But these are just things i've tried that worked for me, i'm NOT a teacher but they seem to be consistent with Vinyasa Krama in that they build upon each other. Also I spent a year and a half on Primary before getting adventurous with back bends, plus all that work on Jump backs probably gave me good core strength too which gives your back support in dropping back.

  3. Thanks Grimmly. I can drop back and all--it's just not very pretty, and I like the way backbends feel to my back. I actually got rid of a back injury with the second series BB. Anyway--I have a super stiff upper back, so that explains it. Anyway--it's good to know you don't do tons and tons of warm up--like all of primary or something.


  4. It's fun to play isn't it Grim? We've both just written about ideas for coming practices, though your post with pix and video was much more descriptive than mine!

    I haven't filmed anything in a couple days but I might film a few things tomorrow.

  5. Hi guys,

    I've been inspired to work on some longer holds and working on half bends by Boodhiba's blog too. I'm holding for one minute kapo hang back and standing one. I'm amazed how much my back opens if I can stay there the full minute.

  6. I'll try to post some updated standing arches (as I call them) before I leave here...

    I heard a story of a long-long time Guruji person here in Mysore, passing on some of Venki's methods. "Keep it quiet!" he'd said. Ha ha...

  7. It is quite outstanding, Grimmly. You practically touch your heels in UD, and the arch is amazing. You came a very long way in a very short time. From the classes I teach I know backbending is particularly challenging for guys with a lot of upper body strength, but somehow it does not seem to apply to you.

  8. yep, fun to play/explore, can't take it all TOO seriously. i saw your plan Boodie, while I was running around Oxford, sounds good. thought at the thime that it was good your mixing things up a bit. Just doing the stuff your struggling with is probably a bad idea, just end up frustrated and despondent when it doesn't go as well as you hope. At least if your mixing it and the other stuff is happening you can put it all in perspective.

    Yesterday I had a lame hotel practice so started back on Bow and Vajrasana (VK backbend sequences) today. Tomorrow I'll join you Helen working on those extended hangs. Your doing a minute! i've got some catching up to do, still at around fifteen seconds, it's nothing : ) .......yet.

    Thanks Alfia, i touched them once (the heels), video on here somewhere, or rather grazed them with a fingernail. I surprised myself with my backbends, never expected to get as deep as I am and to be honest I haven't worked at it that hard or at least not consistently.

    Be interesting to see how these two weeks go. It comes back to what I was writing about around the time of the cold drop back challenge, a lot of it seems to be about good technique and coordination, spreading the back bend throughout your body rather than just having a flexible thoracic, say. Of course you need a reasonable degree of flexibility, but I wonder if it's not as much as you think.

    We get so wrapped up with our spines and yet this week has shown me that a good drop back starts in the ankles or perhaps even your heels.

  9. I had a really good one today, staring at the backs of my calves during drop backs. I could see them from the hang! Yes, yes... it's kicking in.

    I often can't really gauge the effects of an India trip until I'm back home for a month, but this time, I can see that I've got a whole new working method to play with.

  10. Hi guys nice to hear its working linda. I sometimes come out with 10 seconds to go but am trying to stay for the minute. I notice linda is doing 90 minute kapo bs now that is hardcore.

  11. ha ha ha "90m kapo". I'd die!

  12. Lol, sorry really need more sleep! Meant 90 seconds which I stand by is still hard core.

  13. :) Too funny. That's the time set at the beginning though, so the hold in the actual stop point isn't that long. And it should really be 3 minutes... according to Venki. There is no way in hell for that right now though. Even just thinking about it gives me anxiety!



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from Kalama sutra, translation from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi This blog included. "So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering" — then you should abandon them.' Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.

"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them. Buddha - Kalama Sutta