Sunday, 11 January 2015

When to introduce the 2nd series leg behind head entry to Supta kurmasana.

I was chatting with a friend last night about the 2nd series entry to Supta kurmasana and when to introduce it.

I suspect many of us introduce it sooner than we probably should and there's a even  question of whether we should introduce it at all.

Here's an old video of my Supta Kurmasana, I was quite proud of this at the time, employing the 2nd series dwi pada sirsasana transition with a double salko, became my entry of choice and I employed it confidently on Manju's Teacher training while practicing Primary one morning.



While chilling in the asana with my feet nicely fishtailed, Manju comes up and lifts my feet from behind my head and places them on the floor just above my head....that's above my head NOT behind my head...SAY WHAT? But I thought.......?

I asked Manju about it after practice and then in the Q and A session at the end of the day

from this post
http://grimmly2007.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/manju-jois-tt-course-pt4c-of-4.html

MJ: "So have YOU got any questions?"  

(Manju looked right at me here, we'd been discussing a couple of things regarding asana in the break and I felt Manju wanted to mention them in the class. He'd been concerned about a couple of instances in the course book we were given where the chin was on the mat or knee rather than the forehead).

ME: I wanted to ask you about, you adjusted me today, thank-you, in supta kurmasana...

MJ: Yes

Me: ...and I learnt somewhere, somewhere or other I picked up that once you practiced Intermediate series then you do a dwi pada sirsasana  (both legs behind head while seated) entry to Supta Kurmasana, you go in with the legs behind the head...but I noticed you brought my legs out from behind my head (/neck/shoulders) (on to the top of my head)...

MJ: "Yes, they were never on top of your head in Supta kurmasana. It's all new. Yah there was never... you are not supposed to put your legs behind, they should always be..(above the head not behind) because if you look at a tortoise the head goes in the back is round. Somebody started doing that and in the future that's going to cause a lot of problems for people with their necks, it is not supposed to take so much weight. See that's when they are trying to slowly change all the things, not the way they are supposed to be doing it..."

Manju goes further though arguing it's not the asana, that like the turtle/tortoise, the head is insidethe shell thus behind the feet.


See this post
http://grimmly2007.blogspot.jp/2013/10/supta-kurmasana-legs-behind-head-or.html

Here are the two versions, leg behind head and leg above head.

Supta Kurmasana - legs behind the head or above the head

It's going to depend on your Shala which approach they encourage. I went to another teachers workshop following Manju's, put my legs above my head instead of behind whereupon the teacher sat on my back and lifted my feet behind my head (sigh).

And of course here's Sharath in his book with his legs behind head so it's something that's probably here to stay.



UPDATE: A note from Mysore

"Here in Mysore they don't care if you try it but its never a requirement. They will teach it to you after you're past dwi pada in intermediate though..."


Manju's concern is that there is too much pressure on the back of the head so perhaps if we are going to do the leg behind head version and even the Dwipada sirsasana entry then we should probably wait until we can get the legs more over the shoulder.

Here for instance is Sharath's Dwi pada sirsasana, it's quite beautiful, legs nicely over the shoulder no pressure on the neck at all. If you can practice your Dwi pada like this then it's probably pretty safe to settle into a leg behind head Supta Kurmasana and to use it as a transition.



So before we go jumping into the Dwi pada entry to Supta kurmasana or indeed, putting our legs behind our head at all we should probably be working on our Eka pada Sirsasana such that it becomes comfortably more over the shoulder than the neck.

It takes time.

First time we get our leg behind the head we get pretty excited but getting your leg behind your head isn't eka pada sirsasana. In eka pada sirsasana the leg is more over the shoulder, you're not bent double with your neck twisted but sitting up straight and able to breath smoothly.

I checked back through my blog and here's the earliest post I could find of trying to get my leg behind my head, Oct 08, I think I'd been practicing Ashtanga for about a year and a half.





See how hunched up I am, all the pressure is on my neck, I probably shouldn't be lowering until the leg is further over my shoulder and thus probably shouldn't be having my legs behind my head in Supta kurmasana either.

Rather than worrying about the leg behind head and dwi pada entry I should probably content myself with the good old Supta K shuffle

below from an older post
For the last couple of years I've been using the 2nd series Dwi pada entry (both legs behind head), now I had to try and remember how I used to get into it the old way. I used to do something I called the Supta K shuffle but it took me a week or so to re learn it. I'd always meant to film this as I've come across several blogger's mentioning that they struggle to get into the pose without a teacher to cross their feet for them.

So here it is while I remember, the trick is to shuffle the left foot as far over to the right as possible so it meets the right foot. Use the outside of the top half of the right foot to lever the heel up and over the left foot to hook them together, then you can move both feet to the centre of the mat and curl your head in. You can get in tight enough that you can lift up almost as if you do have both legs all the way behind the head.




Of course there is an argument  that we should be working on our leg behind head work in Supta kurmasana, right there in Primary series before we even think about eka pada sirsasana which is a 2nd asana in Ashtanga after all. Employ the shuffle until your able to have your legs more over the shoulder in Supta kurmasana.

The problem with this argument is that you're going be practicing leg behind the head supta kurmasana for quite some time while working on getting deeper into the asana. All that time the pressure will be on the back of your neck just as Manju warns, the damage could already be done before you eventually deepen the posture and make it safe.

My advice then is to stick with the legs above the head until you get to second series and begin working on Eka pada Sirsasana but don't think about lowering into the second form of the asana until your more over the shoulder.

Once that asana is comfortable work on Dwi pada sirsasna but again wait until both legs are nicely over the shoulder there before then bringing the dwi pada sirsasana entry into your primary series Supta kurmasana.

I say that's my advice but the problem with working on Eka pada Sirsasana in 2nd series is that there really isn't much prep. personally I feel that it's better to work on  Eka pada sirsasna in primary series, perhaps after the marichiyasana's or certainly after jan sirsasna. This is how it's approached in Vinyasa krama of course and was probably krishnamacharya own approach back in the 30's in Mysore, adding on more complicated variations of postures rather than a fixed sequence.

Leg behind head in Vinyasa Krama context

Vinyasa Krama Asymmetric sequence speeded up x4 Right side only





I know I know, it's hard to be patient, I was the same plus I didn't think I was getting any younger and thought I should rush through the series while I still could. And then there are all the cool kids and the fancy yoga selfies and all the teachers who feel the need perhaps to help sell their workshops on their fancy asana... because everyone else is, of course we're tempted.

The next part of this post will do just that, throw lots of fancy leg behind head postures your way but if you get to the end of the post you'll see that to be perfectly honest I feel would have been better off working on my maha mudra (like janu sirsasana before the fold), my pranayama... the fancy asana are fun for a while.... perhaps they keep us on the mat while our head matures a little.

*

After discussing the legs behind the head my friend and I ended up talking about leg behind head postures in general which resulted in a post I rushed out last night before bed but am shifting into the wider context of this post.

FB update just turned into a blog post.

Chatting with my friend about leg behind head... memory lane, not sure I can do any of these any more. Buddhasana, top left is perhaps the only one I miss, nice place to breathe. Was fun exploring them but give me maha mudra any day.
Buddhasana, Kapilasana, Marichiyasana H, Marichiyasana G, Parsva Dandasana,
Durvasana, Chakorasana, Viranchyasana A, Viranchyasana B, Bhuja Dandasana, Kasyapasana. thanks to Matthew Sweeny's 'Ashtanga as it is' for the names, had forgotten most of them.

No wonder I'm looking comfortable top left, my arm should be wrapped around the leg to bind....


but more like this.


Krishnamacharya in maha mudra, jalandhara, uddiyana and mula bandha, long slow breathing, kumbhaka, dhyana focus.... yep.


I do have a soft spot for these two though.


......the idea was exploring long tones on the flute, the quality of the tone supposedly reflecting the proficiency of the asana.


This blog was always supposed to be about working towards and JUST getting a posture, trying to catch the first time I managed to get into an asana. The idea was that this might be as helpful for somebody else working on the posture as a beautiful example of somebody who has been practicing it for some time. Here are old Youtube videos of working on some of the leg behind head postures in the sheet above.




BUT...

I was asked how important asana are to me. Not so much, my current thinking is that they are, obstacles, hinderances is probably the better word (with all it's connotations), here hinderances for the breath. The asana is/are in the way... What's that book Claudia's been was raving about, something about the Japanese art of decluttering your house, I want to declutter the asana, find the space to inhabit it peacefully and breathe ever more comfortably.

But then, come to think of it, that's probably the argument for leg behind head postures, damned fine obstacles.


So perhaps the post is sending mixed messages, that's OK we're big enough to decide for ourselves what and how we do and don't practice.


 "The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing" see Claudia's post HERE

Note: Claudia interviewed me for her Yoga Podcast that's launching this month, see her blog for details.

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A Reminder

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
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