Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana (Two-Legged Inverted Staff Pose)
As you lie on the bolster, respond to areas that feel tight or uncomfortable by trying to stretch and move them. Use your hands to gently pull your head and lengthen your neck. To lengthen the lower back, tuck your tailbone and slide your hips farther away from the bolster. Enhance your fine tuning by turning your attention to your breathing. Initially, your breath may reflect the discomfort in your body by being slightly ragged. Consciously slow it down and slightly extend each exhalation. As your breathing steadies, notice how it develops a rhythm that expands beyond the chest to resonate through your whole body. Coaxing that pulse into your tightest areas is your goal.
Facing the Challenge
As you lie over the bolster, you may at first reflexively tighten in reaction to the strong back arch. However, it is critical that you consciously soften and make more room inside your body. Continue to modify your position (even reshape your bolster if necessary) until you are at your "edge"—that place where you feel yourself physically challenged, but still able to maintain a steady breathing rhythm.
Though you are letting go, your body should not collapse. Just flopping is not letting go. In fact, undoing resistance should be a highly conscious process with distinct and tangible sensations. Tension must be faced, dissolved, and finally recycled into true expansion. As your surface grows quiet, become acquainted with the inner movement that pulsates through your body on the beat of each breath. Observe this "undoing" process closely: You are learning to recognize resistance and transform it into renewal, a skill that will mature until it can support even the most challenging asanas.
When you feel ready to take on more challenge, cup your hands behind your head and bring your elbows in so they are shoulder-width apart. Pause for a moment to feel how broad your upper back becomes when you do this, and then, as you exhale, slowly begin to spread your elbows wider without narrowing your upper back. This will open your chest and thoracic spine even more. Keep your elbows wide for a few breaths before relaxing your arms out at your sides and on to the floor at shoulder level.
Letting yourself completely fall back into the bolster, close your eyes and allow the rhythm of your breathing to draw you inward. Depending on how comfortable and absorbed you are, the time you spend here may vary from several minutes to half an hour or more. At the end, in your clean slate of a body, you will be ready for the renewal that comes from practicing asanas.
When you are ready to leave the bolster, put your feet flat on the floor. Removing any props you've placed under your neck, lift your hips and slowly push yourself over the bolster onto your shoulders. Move the bolster under your hips and hug your knees into your chest for a minute or so. You may feel mild discomfort in your lower back that should subside quickly, to be replaced by heat that spreads throughout your back.
You are now ready to progress to a more active yoga practice informed by the skills you have developed over the bolster—a practice more likely to find the balance of physical action, internal focus, and conscious breathing that form the core of hatha yoga. Your time spent over the bolster can help your asanas reach the ideal described in Patanjali's Yoga Sutra: "alert without tension and relaxed without dullness" (translation by T.K.V. Desikachar, from The Heart of Yoga, Inner Traditions, 1995).