HOLY MOLY! I’ve just unlocked the secret of going up into Urdhva Dhanurasana

December 9, 2013
HOLY MOLY! I’ve just unlocked the secret of going up into Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upside Down Bow Pose), a pose that was easy two years ago when this photo was taken, but which gradually became harder with the convergence of not practicing backbends regularly, not going to class with teachers who might have assisted me, weight gain, and, most of all, the passage of time.
In my youth, backbends came easily. If I didn’t practice them for a few weeks, my youthful credit helped me sail past the initial stiffness simply by practicing a few preliminary poses. Now, at age 64, the reality of endless days at the computer and the inevitable stresses and strains of life has settled into my shoulder joints. But in recent months, though, inspired by B.K.S. Iyengar who will be 95 on December 14) and all the other teachers further along the yoga path than I, I’ve been experimenting much more with wall ropes, bolsters, and chairs.For older students or stiff beginners of any age, the most difficult part of pushing up from the floor is the first few inches–getting to the top of the head without straining the neck or shoulders. In my classes, when a student has developed the strength, flexibility, and, most important, whole-body awareness that is essential for bending backwards without injury, then most of the time all he or she needs is a little help mastering the dynamics of getting past that moment when the body feels like dead weight. Which is exactly how my body has felt these past several months of trying to press up from the floor.
Well, I don’t have a yogi hubby who gets up at 5 a.m. to assist me into backbends; instead, as they say, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” I’m sure if someone who didn’t do yoga were to have peeked in my window, the scene would probably have looked insane. Even Honey, sacked out on my bed, had an incredulous look on her face.For a good solid hour I practice Standing Poses with a single wall rope around the top of my back leg to get maximum elongation and traction of the spine, and to stretch shoulders, rib cage, etc, (also Parsvottanasana and Revolved Triangle with a single wall rope around the top of both legs, to keep pelvis level; then Downward Facing and Upward Facing Dog Pose, with both single and double wall ropes, and then, finally, drop-back backbends with a single wall rope around my bottom, both “free style” and back of my head supported on the chair seat.

You’d think, with all that warming up, that when I went to lie down on the floor, pushing up into Upside Down Bow Pose would be a piece of cake. But no, even with my wrists elevated on blocks against the wall (a yoga trick that worked for decades), my body still didn’t lift itself. I could have forced my way up, but at this stage of life I can’t risk injury.

If only I’d had a teacher standing behind my head who would let me put my hands on her feet or hold her sturdy ankles (which is what I do for my students to elevate their wrists and hands, which helps to open their shoulders).

My motivation to once again enjoy Urdhva Dhanurasana without injury is at an all-time high. So I began experimenting with not only lying back over a chair (with a firmly rolled yoga blanket at various spots in my back to further remove stiffness in spine and ribs) but with a chair facing me so I could grasp its front legs.

My first attempt was a failure, as the second chair was wobbly. So I braced the second chair against the wall and weighed it down with four ten-pound sandbags.

Then, by golly, I sat backwards on the seat of the first chair, went back slowly, first holding the back of the chair, opening my chest and anchoring my feet as I slowly bent backward, then I reached back with my arms, firmly held the front rungs of the second chair, and EASILY lifted my back high off the chair seat into the most victorious, confident, heart-opening, exhilarating backbend I’ve done in a long, long time.

I know that if I keep practicing patiently with strategically arranged bolsters, wall ropes, chairs, and keep lying back over various back benders, that the day will come when I can once more press up from the floor without help as I did in my younger years. And, in the meantime, I’m enjoying all the benefits!

I promise to get a modern phone and take pictures of my prop set ups. To learn more, besides my own books for people at midlife and older, I highly recommend THE WOMAN’S YOGA BOOK, by Bobby Clennell (which shows many of the prop set ups I use in my practice). And Google, “yoga with wall ropes.”

Namaste!
s
Photo Credit: Cathy Snyder — in Ojai, CA.

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