First of all, I'd like to direct your attention to the bad-ass new header, and send a big thank you to La Gitane, the good soul behind Yoga Gypsy. She recently offered her services as a graphic designer for free to three lucky commenters on her blog whose own blogs needed a little more panache. Her awesome designs can also be seen at Yoga with Gailee and Suburban Yogini.
Secondly, I got back on the Yoga Today wagon this evening after my long solitary practice yesterday. I took a class entitled "Improving circulation through backbends," led by Adi. Yesterday's practice involved a lot of backbends, and the back was feeling a little sore today, in a good way, so I was curious to know how it would feel going through another backbend-heavy practice right away.
The standing sequence was slow and deliberate with a few longer holds, and the slower motions actually built heat very quickly. There were some binds thrown into the standing sequence to open up the shoulders, which felt really nice and kept the core heated. The seated sequence offered a few jump through opportunities, and Adi led a brief exploration of jumping into a pike position from the knees and landing in chaturanga. I haven't been able to do a good pike yet. And I've tried, plenty of times. More bandhas, I know, but I'm definitely missing something.
The backbending sequence turned out to be almost exactly what I practiced yesterday: a few shalabasana variations, ardha bhekasana, and two dhanurasanas. Go figure. Then we came through a vinyasa to the knees for ustrasana, which was absolutely brilliant after warming up the back so much. I really don't practice ustrasana enough. It's such a great heart opener; a feel-good pose, and an excellent opportunity to work on keeping length in the lumbar spine while backbending. If I'm compressing in the lower back, I can always feel it and know when it's been corrected in ustrasana. Push the hips forward and stretch the tailbone down!
After the class, I practiced a couple of hip openers and twists, then worked on my inversions for a long while. Handstands, headstands, and even a shoulderstand, which, fortunately, is not tormenting me so much these days. I spent a lot of time trying to polish my jumps into handstand, stretching out my sore knees in hero while resting between bouts. Twice, I found a point of balance and hovered for a breath before touching the wall. That's what I've been looking for! It's finally beginning to happen.
Before staying in headstand today, I practiced coming into and out of the pose smoothly, without the wall -- almost, that is. The wall was about two feet behind me, so I could prevent rolling onto my neck if necessary, but not close enough to use as an aid in lifting up or interfere with coming down. I never used it. This was a big step for me. I felt very comfortable, and didn't panic when things started to sway a bit. I'm beginning to think that with the inversions, it's all about commitment and confidence. I must decide to be steady, and I must know that I have the ability to do so.
After a good rest in child's pose, I gave the dreaded shoulderstand a try. I stayed for twelve long breaths, then lowered to a plough pose, even clasping the hands and stretching them back to the floor. To my astonishment, it actually felt good. All the shoulder openers are paying off, big time. It might be time to scratch salamba sarvangasana off of the asana black-list.