Advice for Bhujapidasana
—Richard Wyatt, Bridport, Vermont
John Friend's reply:
In Bhujapidasana, you balance on the hands with the legs wrapped around your upper arms and the feet crossed in front of your torso. First, you must fully stretch your hamstrings, so that you can bend deeply forward between your legs in a bent-legged Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend). (The closer you can get your legs to your shoulders—which requires a good amount of hamstring flexibility—the easier Bhujapidasana is to perform.)
To most effectively and safely stretch the hamstrings, keep your leg muscles engaged and toned while you stretch. If necessary, isometrically draw the feet backward in order to help you engage the hamstrings. Some basic poses that will help you work on the hamstrings in this way include Uttanasana, Adho Mukha Svanasana, Utthita Trikonasana, Parsvottanasana, and Supta Padangusthasana.
Also, to be able to bend deeply forward in preparation for Bhujapidasana, you must open up the hips. Most yoga students think of hip-openers as poses that help stretch the inner thighs and externally rotate the legs. However, another aspect of hip-openers—particularly important for this pose—is to internally rotate the legs, drawing the upper, inner thighs backward and widening the thighs and pelvis.
Another clue to optimally performing Bhujapidasana is hidden in its name. "Bhuja" means "arm" or "shoulder," and "pida" means "pressure." When you are in the pose, you want to actively hug or squeeze your legs against your arms into the midline. With your feet crossed at the ankles, enthusiastically spread your toes, especially your little toes. This will help draw your shins and thighs in toward the midline, which will translate into lightness in the pose. In order to create further lightness, draw your heels and your tailbone toward each other.
The more you squeeze the legs into the midline and against the arms, the lighter and easier the pose becomes. In addition, use your breath to help you fill in your back body, especially around the waistline or kidney region. The more the kidney area can puff up with your breath, the more laghima (lightness) you will create in the pose.
Finally, cultivate a playful attitude. Although at first you might not be able to perform the pose without a great deal of effort, every attempt makes a lasting impression in the energetics of your mind-body. So, dedicate yourself to regular practice of this pose with the above alignment tips, and you will soon experience a new level of self-empowerment.
This month's expert, John Friend, is the founder of Anusara Yoga, which combines the celebration of the heart, the art of inner body awareness, and the science of universal principles of alignment.