There’s a reason I don’t currently practice Intermediate Series and it isn’t that I haven’t tried or don’t have a teacher (because when has that ever stopped me). It’s because I’m freaked out by backbends. It’s true. I’m a backbending wuss. I just…panic. I can’t explain it. I’ve talked about it before, I’ve used props and dvds to try to get over it, and I actually have practiced Intermediate at various times (for example, here)—David Swensen’s version from his book and David William’s version—but I always seem to give it up. It’s all those backbends right out of the gate, hanging my big old heavy head back into space, the mild choking , the disorientation, my cement spine, the fear of falling or somehow…breaking. I hate it.
Never the less, I have made some backbending progress over the five years of my conservative Ashtanga practice. And although I have tried all the various things I just mentioned, I really think the main thing that has worked for me is Up Dog and it’s slightly easier cousin, Cobra.
Seriously. Up Dog. And lengthening the time I spend in Up Dog. Three, four, five breaths in Up Dog (or putting the legs down on the floor in cobra) per vinyasa, for all those vinyasas, that adds up to a lot of backbending.
Plus, I like to press into the pose from different angles, try to find different vertebra and put more arch into different sections of my spine. I play with it, a la Angela Farmer. And I can’t explain why, but Up Dog and Cobra do not trigger my backbend panic. So I love them.
Sidebar/ If you haven’t heard of Angela Farmer, she’s amazing. She studied with Iyengar back before yoga was cool and then went on to do her own thing. She’s one of the old timers in American yoga, for example, Angela invented the yoga mat! The story goes that she was teaching a workshop on these slippery floors and just, spur of the moment, cut up some under-carpet-matting, that sticky, rubbery stuff they put under wall-to-wall carpet, and boom. Yoga mats. I haven’t seen all her offerings, just a few of the older ones, but she had a huge impact on me as far as pleasure in the practice, joyful asana, moving in an asana, trusting your body’s sensations, etc. Terrific stuff, highly recommended. She is a MASTER and I do not say that lightly.
Here, just found this, one of her old ones, Feminine Unfolding (although, I don’t think it has anything to do with women/men, personally, that feels kind of dated in a way). This video is a long one, but worth every minute. You will never do a stiff, stagnant asana again. Very inspiring!! Rocked my yoga world when I first saw it.
Anyhoo, I was thinking today about how little love Up Dog gets, it’s barely mentioned as more than a transition asana sometimes, something that happens on the way to Down Dog. But I’ve found lingering there, as well as working in plank/chaturunga, these are sometimes the most important parts of a given day’s Primary. The asana inbetween become fun little side stretches to rest between the WORK of five breath planks, shaky arm chaturangas, and five breath up dogs/cobra (I switch to cobra when my wrists start hurting, another David William’s approach). Up Dog is not as flashy as kapotasana, FOR SURE, but still, if you do twenty+ of them in a practice, it adds up.
And they are panic free, at least for me. WOOT. I’m all about the Up Dog these days.
Finally, Friday’s are yoga-chat open thread days! Please feel free to say hello, check-in, talk about your week’s practice, highs and lows, complain, crow, whatever. Past discussions have been great, aging and yoga, outside exercise and Ashtanga, etc. We’d love to hear from you!