Our Yoga teacher trainings have a mix of students at many levels of practice. Some people have been practicing for decades. Others, just a few months. You might think that the students who have put in more time would be the ones who go the farthest in asana, but that is not necessarily true. Sometimes, those who have been practicing the longest have been pushing themselves beyond their body’s limits. Or they have been practicing out of habit, leading to stagnation. These students need to walk back to their true starting points to build a solid foundation. Sometimes that point is farther back than expected.
If you’re used to fast-paced studio classes, or have practiced without regular, effective adjustments and guidance, finding your true starting point will bring an entirely new perspective into your asana practice. As you back up, you’ll release the binds of your ego and bring in the quality of ahimsa, or nonviolence, into your life. You’ll also advance much faster in a pose by working within your body’s current condition.
This month, use danurasana, bow pose, to bring more awareness into your body’s openings and opportunities. This pose is a wonderful back strengthener, brings flexibility to the spine and opens up the front side of the body to encourage a heart-centered life.
The purpose of props
Students who practice with Hale Pule teachers know how useful props are to explore and expand in a pose. Many people don’t think they need props because they think they are a crutch, or think that they have mastered a pose without them. But pay attention: What are you sacrificing in your body in order to avoid using a prop? In danurasana, you might be jamming your feet to your buttocks to reach them. This places strain on your knees and limits the progression of the pose. Until you can reach your feet while keeping your knees bent at a 45-degree angle, reach for a strap. It will allow the front of your spine to lengthen evenly and build a strong and stable foundation in the pose and allow for more progression.
Here at Hale Pule, we talk about asana with three designations: essence, anchor and strength. This is a simple tool to remember the intention of the pose, where your body is grounded and the muscles you engage for proper alignment. These components will support optimal energy flow and a sustainable practice throughout your life.
Danurasana from the ground up
Continued practice of Yoga will allow you to connect with the space your body occupies and its relationship to what is around you. This is called proprioception. This is what allows you to know when you are lifting your legs and chest at the same time and level in danurasana.
The more you practice without a mirror, the faster your proprioception will grow. Feeling what your body is doing will allow you to find your true starting point and avoid going beyond what your body is ready to do.
1. Lie on your belly with your chin or forehead on the mat.
2. Bend your knees to about a 45-degree angle. Place a strap around the front of your ankles, just where the foot meets the leg. Hold the strap softly, just like you would carry a baby bird. Keep your knees hip-width distance apart and your shoulder blades broad. As you hold the strap, be sure your elbows are straight, but not hyperextended.
3. Engage neutral spine by extending your tailbone 1/8th inch or ½ centimeter. Use the strength of your legs and buttocks to lift your thighs and chest evenly and at the same time. Keep your knees hip-width distance apart and gaze forward so that your head is a natural extension of your spine. Hold for 15 to 20 breaths.
If you don’t have a strap, keep your arms to the side of your body and just lift your chest and legs.
Common trouble spots
Heels jammed to buttocks. This creates too much flexion in the knees and risks straining the back. Begin with your lower legs at about a 45-degree angle.
Strap on toes. Place the strap around the front of the top of the foot where it meets the ankles for more stability.
Chest or legs too high. Lift your chest and legs evenly at the same time to avoid overusing either the upper or lower part of the body at the expense of the other.
Knees apart. Allow the force of the pose to be evenly distributed through your back and adductors (the muscles on the inside of your thighs) engaged by pressing your knees toward each other.
Neck cranked. Allow your head to be a natural extension of the opening of your spine so that prana flows.
Elbows hyperextended. Protect your joints by keeping your elbows straight, not hyperextended.