Why we’re turning upside down
October is a unique month, a lil scary even some might say 😉 because with this is the month it all begins… The holidaze is upon us!
To help us through this bustling time, we have chosen a pose called viparita karani. Practicing this shape for six months, according to the ancient text Hatha Yoga Pradipika (HYP), destroys wrinkles and gray hair and even conquers death! Talk about getting in shape for the holidays! 😛
Viparita karani is unique because it is a mudra (according to the HYP). Mudras, or energy seals, are designed to channel energy in an effort to help refine and prepare the body for the deeper spiritual practices. A version of this shape is known by most as shoulderstand, but over the coming month we will discover some things that make the two pretty different.
Start with your foundation
This week we start with the base, the foundation from which we will lift off. This pose may look like shoulderstand, but it actually has much more in common with bridge pose, and so we start there!
Like viparita karani mudra, a full bridge pose asks for the spine to be absorbed into the body by strong scapula adduction, spinal extension, and shoulder extension. Failure to lift the spine from the floor can mean we are placing all of our body weight on the base of our neck in our final shape, which can be not so good for several structures in your neck.
We will look at different ways to access the arch of your spine off the floor, increasing strength and proprioception to help you stay safe while playing with the yogic fountain of youth 🙂
Use bridge pose as your starting place
Viparita karani and bridge pose alike require a great deal of range of motion (ROM) in spinal extension (back bend). It also feels like they’re asking for a whole lot of shoulder extension (arms reach back) as well, it is a range that’s within normal for shoulder extension. Both actions together feel like the opposite of our everyday actions… because they are! One of my teachers, Zoe Kowalchuk, recently said that she does bridge pose everyday to counteract life!
Let’s look at the musculature in bridge pose, what might be happening when the pose is challenging, and some ideas on how to work towards greater ease!
Bridge pose kinesiology
What needs to be strong
Shoulder extensors, shoulder horizontal abductors, scapula retractors (muscles on the back of the upper torso)
How can we strengthen these muscles?
Practice shapes like baby cobra and danurasana, as both have the same spine and shoulder joint actions as our final pose but in a relationship to gravity that is perfect for strengthening the muscles that create the actions.
Here’s an example:
- Start in baby cobra.
- Float the hands off of the floor while attempting to keep the heart lifted in the original baby cobra position.
- Extend the elbows and reach the arms back like wings.
- Hold for 6 breaths. Add an option to bend the knees for a floating danurasana (i.e., danurasana without the bind, which helps build strength in the back of the body).
- Next, try replacing the hands right back alongside the chest without losing any of the heart lift! Finally, press up from the ground into up dog (if that shape is part of your practice).
- Come to down dog or move through a vinyasa before repeating!
What needs to be long
Shoulder flexors, shoulder horizontal adductors, scapular protractors (muscles on the front of the upper torso)
How can we lengthen these muscles?
You can use a joint action to strengthen the agonist (muscles that make the action happen) or lengthen the antagonist (muscles that release to allow the action), so to create length in the necessary muscles, let’s take the above sequence with one small adjustment: change the Purpose & Intent from strengthening the agonist groups to lengthening the antagonist groups. (You can read more on Purpose & Intent in another blog or join one of our trainings to learn all about how we build our classes at 216!)
Here’s an example:
- Start belly down with hands placed by the ribs in baby cobra prep.
- Tent the fingertips by the low ribs, then press up into baby cobra. This time, leave the fingers on the floor.
- Tenting the fingertips raises the base on which your hands rest, thereby increasing your shoulder extension passively, safely allowing tension to release from the fronts of the shoulders with the help of gravity. What do you feel in your own body?
- Instead of moving into up dog from baby cobra, play with a deeper version of baby cobra: Plant your hands, firm the legs, press the pubic bone down, and begin to extend (straighten) the elbows, gradually lifting higher towards full cobra (go only as high as you can without feeling compression in your lower back).
- This time, you may feel the strength of the back musculature aided by gravity to open the front of the shoulders. Does it feel different for you than the first approach?
- Lower back down to the floor.
- Lift into baby cobra, bend the knees, press the pubic bone down, and at the same time reach for both ankles (if the ankles are too far to reach for you or your students, try using a strap). Use the bind to release tension from the front of the shoulders.
It is a great exercise for your students to seek different sensations in the same joint actions by playing with gravity, intention, and focus. Try the above with a friend or with your students and save some time to share your experiences.
Of course we would love for you to share your experience, thoughts, and ideas with us too! Share on the interwebs with tag #216infrastructure or just leave a comment below.
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