1.24.2010

Whole Lot O' Backbends

Practice today was the Heart Opening Backbends class at Yoga Today with Adi Amar. The class was about 59 minutes, and after a brief meditation and about 20 minutes of surya namaskaras and lunges, went right into a barrage of backbends. It began with a few crescent variations on each side (hands clasped pressing into the front thigh, arms overhead, then with a twist), then onto the floor for 2 locust variations, half frog on each side, full frog, full bow pose, then onto the knees for camel pose. There were no counter poses held between these backbends, and only a couple of vinyasas.

The effects of practicing so many backbends in a row were interesting to note. At first, my body resisted. My shoulders hunched, and my breathing shortened, but after a few relatively long holds, the front of my body, especially my shoulders and chest, really opened up, and my energy level went through the roof. Exactly what I needed today.

This class also involved some one-armed downward dogs, with one arm grabbing the opposite leg for a twist. This is a position that never feels right to me. I am rarely inclined to practice it in my own sequences, but I have encountered it in both video and studio classes. Asymmetrical downward dogs put strain on my elbows and shoulders, even with the arm bones tucked firmly into the sockets. Isn't downward dog about finding symmetry, balance, and ease in the body? I suppose the asymmetrical version is an asana in and of itself, presenting its own set of challenges. My only fear is that practicing it more often will result in injury rather than strength. Any tips? Micro-bend the elbows? Magic bandha powers?

3 comments:

  1. Hi there,

    Welcome to the yoga-blogsphere! My practice is also almost exclusively home based, as the only time I have access to teachers is if I go on retreat, once every year or even longer, so I can relate!

    I find the one-armed downward dog can be a lovely pose because it's a twist and stretches the side body, but it can also be very intense as you discuss! I just got down on my floor and tried it and I have to say that a micro-bend in the elbow didn't help me as much as focusing on external rotation - firming the lower arm and turning the elbow outwards (I guess this brings a micro-bend anyway though).

    If you want to keep at it, here a few things you might try... A. Practice one-legged downward dog with one knee bent behind the body - focus on firming both arms and letting the stretch run deep along your side. B. Roll up your yoga mat and try the one-armed variation with the mat under your hands. The extra elevation can take a bit of strain off the arms. Keep your focus on firming the thighs and working the heels away from each other to really ground your legs and take strain off the arms. C. Practice the pose with the lifted hand resting on the ground in front of the opposite foot, instead of grabbing the opposite leg.

    Hope one of those will help you figure out what you need to unblock!

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  2. Welcome to yoga blogging!

    I have shoulder problems and am not a fan of asymmetrical downward dogs tbh although what La Gitane says above is good advice!

    Thank you for your comment on my tattoo post. Yours sound gorgeous!

    Rachel

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  3. La Gitane -

    Wow, thanks so much for dropping by and offering some insight!

    I actually do enjoy one-legged downward dogs, though at first they too brought a lot of 'sensation' into my shoulders. Stabilizing the shoulder joints and squeezing the forearms together has helped, and I try to replicate that action when using only one arm, but it's much more difficult for me.

    "Keep your focus on firming the thighs and working the heels away from each other to really ground your legs and take strain off the arms." -- Will do. I know that I have a bad habit of pushing into the balls of my feet during downward dog, rather than letting my heels come to the floor, and it does put more pressure on the shoulders.

    "Practice the pose with the lifted hand resting on the ground in front of the opposite foot, instead of grabbing the opposite leg." -- I'll try working this variation into my practice a bit to start building strength.

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