The Blog title poster above forms part of a series of posters I made up for a book, 'Krishnamacharya's original Ashtanga Yoga', based on the public domain translation from the Tamil edition of Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda (Mysore 1934) . It's available for free on my Free Downloads page above. There is a print edition on Lulu.com ( Note: It's best to buy it in print from Lulu as I can reduce the price down almost to cost rather than on Amazon where I have less control of pricing.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Getting more curl in your backbends

This relates to a discussion that came up earlier today regarding dropping back and getting more curl to your backbend.

Now remember I'm in no way a teacher or an authority on backbending, I don't actually think my backbend is that great. However, perhaps I'm close enough to having just achieved the dropback to be able to remember what actually made the difference for me.

So this was a problem I had myself a little while ago. I suspect it may have had something to do with using the wall as a training aid for my dropping back.

The good thing about the wall is that it gives you a sense of security as you gain confidence in hanging back. My problem had been that I would hold my breath as a I bent backwards. With the wall there I could hang back, my hands a couple of inches away and feel confident enough to take a breath or two, which gave me the time to start working on a deeper backbend and a longer hang back.

But I think there might be a drawback to using the wall in this way. What happens is that you tend to look at the wall all the time and can end up with a horizontal line of sight. your backbend gets deeper but your torso tends to run horizontal to the floor, you may be developing a deep backbend in the mid to lower region but if you can't see the mat your going to lack confidence for that first leap of faith.

What made the difference for me, was dropping back in stages. First I dropped back to the sofa then to cushions then to a single cushion, and finally to the floor(some suggest that dropping back to cushions may be a bad idea if you don't have strong wrists). The sofa was high enough to just be in my line of sight, it automatically drew my head back a little and as progressed through the cushions I began to arch my back just that little bit more each time until I was arched back enough to see the mat and have the confidence to drop.

I think the Vinyasa Krama hand positions may have a similar effect. The reverse hand position, hands behind your back in prayer , the same as if you were about to perform Utthita Pararsvottanasana (see video). You don't have to be that good at this as nobody is watching, the idea is that it draws the shoulders back pushing out the chest. Now try to stretch your shoulders up over the hands which brings the chest up and creates the beginning of some serious curl. Another VK hand position can help here too, arms behind the back, hands clasping the elbows (see video). Again the idea here is to bring the shoulders back and stretch up over the arms to create curl.

Keeping that curl in mind, backbend as usual, starting with bringing the shoulders back, chest up stretching up and over then continue bending back down through the length of your back, bringing your hips forward. I tend to move my hands below my buttocks allowing me to stretch up and over more, It's here I bring my hands in prayer in frount of my chest and assuming I can now see the end of the mat take my arms over and slowly drop back.

Sometimes it seems like we focus too much on the bend aspect of backbend and forget that it's actually a back stretch.

Look at the video, my back bend isn't so great nor is my hangback but I have enough curl to compensate.

I was thinking about this as I was coming home and got my mat straight out. I've left this on the video to show that we can get too wrapped up with preparation. As long as your distributing the backbend throughout the length of the the body you can do it cold, I'd just that second come in the door. The problems come when we try to bend too much in just the one area of the back and put strain on that area.

That said I should probably point out that I've been practicing Ashtanga for two and a half years and have been dropping back into backbends for around six months now. I'm not suggesting that just anyone, with no recent exercise background can just drop back cold into a backbend without any preparation. However, if you have been working towards dropping back for some time but have perhaps developed a mental block towards that last leap of faith, then it might be useful to see the dropback as less of a big performance, stripped of it's preparatory rituals.

I'm not stupid though, I didn't try coming back up cold.

The blowing of the nose at the end is kind of an in joke.

video
Thanks to maya for this

Richard Freeman talking about Jois:
"One day he convinced me, chronically afflicted with much conceit about my knowledge, that I could drop back to hold my knees cold, without any warm-up, preceding poses, or vinyasa. I knew it had to be impossible by any calculation, but he briefly convinced me that none of these, the body, the pose, the sequence, or the formula, were what I thought them to be. He put me in the pose without a second thought."

Richard freeman writing in Yoga journal.


26 comments:

  1. Does that mean that we sho did the cold dropback (and standup) challenge a while ago are stoopid? :-D

    ReplyDelete
  2. No, not saying cold drop back wasn't stupid, thought it was an interesting experiment, I had an argument for it and everything, but I was suggesting here that coming up cold might be.

    I remember you dropping back cold, but forgot you came up too?

    Let's say i don't feel it would be sensible for me to try coming up cold. I know your teasing but thinking about it we gravity on our side dropping back, coming up our muscles are doing ALL the work, I think I'd want to be a little more warmed up. have i dug myself out of my hole : )

    ReplyDelete
  3. Man is OBSESSED!!

    I do more passive stretching before commencing Astanga practice than I used to - maybe 5-8m or so. I like to do an urdvha d before I start sometimes. You can really feel the stretch through the abdomen when you're "cold".

    ReplyDelete
  4. nice strip tease!

    (I was too scared to come up from the cold drop back...)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Obsessed? Show me an Ashtangi who isn't. We construct our lives around this damned practice of ours. What we eat, what and how much we drink, when we sleep, tis madness : )

    I'm actually with you on the pre ashtanga stretching. there;s a little stretch routine from vinyasa Krama that i do for five minutes before my first Sury.

    Well actually Liz, in my early twenties, when times were hard.......

    ReplyDelete
  6. hi Grimmly
    your site is on my reading list for the Xmas, when i might be able to see the videos. but the text explains your process. i have been incorporating the three warmup practices in my morning. i'm afraid to practice with cushions on the floor, because they tend to slip, so in an attempt at dropping back, i would land on "el coco" eventually as the hands would slip.
    (lov ur sense of humor)
    cheers,
    Arturo

    ReplyDelete
  7. Grimmly, I think it is fine for YOU to drop back cold, but it is, generally speaking, a very very bad idea. It isn't just the back that needs to be warm for some of us to drop back safely. For some of us, the wrists can't bend to even close to a 90 degree angle without some vinyasas to warm them up (this is due to arthritis, in my case, but according to my doctor, it is very very common by the time you're 40). For others, the arms don't have the proper rotation to support dropping back until at least some full wheels from the floor have been done.

    Also, for many people, dropping onto cushions is a good way to break the neck. I know that I could never have learned to drop back that way. I would have dropped onto a cushion and then slipped, and ended up splattered on the floor. I just don't have the...something...stability?....to drop onto anything but terra firma.

    Your experience is yours, and there is no denying that you are able to do some amazing things. But just because you can do it....

    You do realize that you are an Ashtanga prodigy, don't you? ;)

    ReplyDelete
  8. ....but one thing is sure, those who stick to the practice are addicted to it, junkies, Ashtanga junkies......very nice people in other words.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hi Arturo, you can't see the videos still, i thought you could now. I'll try and make a point of explaining what's going on in them.

    YC are you suggesting that I'm being a tad irresponsible with regard to the cold dropback? you could be right and so i've added a paragraph though surely anyone who comes here probably has a bit of a background and I don't think anyone is going to try dropping back unless they're already halfway there.
    the cushions, well it works for some people going by stages., maybe i'll add something about only using cushions if you have strong wrists.

    Thank you for stopping me from getting sued and i want YOGA PRODIGY on a t-shirt, bit old to be a prodigy though no?

    ReplyDelete
  10. OK let's see... first the cold dropbacks, yeah not a good idea really and I think YC makes some good points, particularly about the wrists. But yes, I think probably only people who could handle it safely would try. I did the challenge and it was just a fun thing to do, but it didn't feel good at all.. not painful or anything, just clunky. I had no desire to stand up and didn't, though I do on rare occasion to demonstrate, if there's someone in class who needs the inspiration to get the idea in their head that they could do this. But only if I'm also having a bendy back day and feel like walking my hands in far enough to make it work OK, and of course it's still nothing like it is in practice.

    Cold HANGING back, however... aaaahhh. I love the holding elbows and reverse prayer ones you do. I have so many variations on this I can never remember them all at once.. sometimes I discover a new one on the fly!

    Now here is one for you to try after the reverse prayer one, to bring the arch even further up the spine (can't remember if you did this in your earlier video or not). Fingers interlaced behind the head - this is great because you can relax your neck completely and totally release the weight of the head into the hands. Let the elbows splay out at a comfortable distance, do the usual grounding feet, lift legs, mula bandha, hips forward; then lift the chest way up (incidentally, lift the SPINE, not the ribcage; keep the ribcage soft and relaxed), and make the candycane. Then exhaling, slowly bring the elbows towards each other... all the way in, and push the spine up just below the neck. Inhale, slowly move the elbows all the way out. Let your neck completely relax and hands carry the head. Great shoulder opener, and brings the bend up to the upper thoracic and cervical spine, higher than most people can get in reverse prayer, AND the arm movements help to get the breathing going for those who tend to hold their breath at this point. Try it!!

    There's only one thing I think is not quite right in what you said. It's a FRONT stretch, not a back stretch. THAT's what we have to remember.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Oh, you are by no means the only person who uses cushions to learn to drop back. But you ARE the most influential that I can think of, because of your blog and your successes. So, good that you put that disclaimer in, although I suspect that people who don't have the strength or flexibility for it won't try it anyway. Me, I just learned to drop back onto my knees, which, believe it or not was a feat in and of itself. That gave me the "feel" and the "shape" in my back, and it gave me the confidence to drop back. I think I figured it out in a weekend that way.

    Standing up is another story. Still working on doing it "pretty", although I've been doing it for years now.

    Now, as for the teaching of the dropback, I taught a young student the other day to drop back in one day. She was collapsing every time she dropped back...onto her elbows. Fear, right? So, I told her, look back and see the floor. When you see the floor, put your hands on there. Et voila.

    I think that is the best advice anyone ever gave ME..and why I pass it on.

    You, prodigy, you.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Richard Freeman talking about Jois:
    "One day he convinced me, chronically afflicted with much conceit about my knowledge, that I could drop back to hold my knees cold, without any warm-up, preceding poses, or vinyasa. I knew it had to be impossible by any calculation, but he briefly convinced me that none of these, the body, the pose, the sequence, or the formula, were what I thought them to be. He put me in the pose without a second thought."

    ReplyDelete
  13. I'm with you on 'trying to do it pretty ' YC mine isn't great and it's inconsistent, i don't work enough at coming back or dropping back for that matter. I'm not convinced about backbending as it it. A good Kapo great, but the whole dropping back and walking up to your ankles and then up to your knees? why for heaven sake. Seems like it's taking things a bit far. People seem to like it though, never say never.

    Interesting what you say about teaching dropbacks in a day, I think drop backs are 1% theory and 99% overcoming fear. (alright not really but not far off).

    ReplyDelete
  14. Yes I think I had the hand interlaced one on an earlier video, there's a VK one of that although surprisingly the hands are interlaced but palms down.

    I think were both wrong , it's probably a frount AND back stretch, no? But I think we tend to forget about the frount stretch aspect.

    I get the feeling you didn't get to see the video yet, doesn't show up on the iphone, I guess. That's why i mentioned this post at your place wanted you to watch it because I was thinking of you with the bit right at the end.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Yes I think I had the hand interlaced one on an earlier video, there's a VK one of that although surprisingly the hands are interlaced but palms down.

    I think were both wrong , it's probably a frount AND back stretch, no? But I think we tend to forget about the frount stretch aspect.

    I get the feeling you didn't get to see the video yet, doesn't show up on the iphone, I guess. That's why i mentioned this post at your place wanted you to watch it because I was thinking of you with the bit right at the end.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Maya, I adore you. You made my day with that quote. Where ever did you find it, one of the old interviews?

    SEE SEE, cold dropbacks everyone, and not just dropbacks but Chakra ruddy bandhasana too : )

    ReplyDelete
  17. Oh god, CB cold.......

    You know what, I'm not sure if I watched it or not! Sorry!! I think I did, but late last night at the near-comatose stage, when I read the post... I read the comments this morning, and you know I'm in love with the variation I gave these last few days, and wanted to pass it on....

    Youtubes play on the iPhone but this particular video doesn't. But I'll watch it when I get home and look out for the bit at the end....

    ReplyDelete
  18. When will apple sort that out. other web phones can watch videos. My youtube channel is running up to 40 videos now so am rationing which ones i post there.

    Now we have to work out what Jois meant by
    ' the body, the pose, the sequence, or the formula', not being what you think they are.

    ReplyDelete
  19. If you are not a teacher, as you mention, and have never worked with other bodies,

    then:

    why are you addressing an abstract audience as "you" and telling this "you" how to practice?

    ReplyDelete
  20. Hi Owl, well for a start your conclusion doesn't follow from your premise. You can refer to yourself using YOU, particularly in relation to the inclusive other. In this case that would be in the sense of sharing some ideas with others, the emphasis being on sharing rather than teaching.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Semantics.

    Sad.

    Word Veri: "ovism"

    ReplyDelete
  22. Oh.. haha! Yes, you're right, I didn't even watch it, I'm sorry! I'm an airhead. That was cute :) The dropback was good too, really good position.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Hoped you'd like it comrade, nose blowers of the world unite!

    ReplyDelete
  24. OMG, u wont believe it, i got thru thru normal means. open the floodgates! i didnt have to wait til Xmas. i'm stuttering from joy.
    hugs
    arturo
    word verif "ashes", em none here

    ReplyDelete
  25. Am I missing something here? Are you guys just kidding around, Owl and Grimmly? Because I keep staring at the screen not knowing what to make of this public DIScussion.

    ReplyDelete
  26. ...actually the system is temperamental, at this hour can't do what i did this morning. oh well.
    cheers, A

    ReplyDelete

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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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