Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana (Two-Legged Inverted Staff Pose)
Stepping It Up
If you know your practice will include backbends, you can save your bolster work until you come to the point where backbends loom. If you find the bolster work already described easy, consider adding this even deeper version. It is wonderful at the beginning of your practice, but is especially effective when preparing for backbending.
Place a double blanket roll on top of a stool or milk crate. Sit on the bolster and slide your hips down just enough so that you can lie back and position the bolster in the small of your back. Lie back, letting your back melt into the bolster, and allowing your arms, legs, and head to hang. You may be tall enough or flexible enough so that your head reaches the floor. In that case, try folding one or two blankets between the crate and bolster for more height.
Hanging in this position may not be easy at first because your spine must be flexible enough to tolerate the weight of your hips and shoulders. You may reduce any strain by placing a block under your head and resting your hands on your chest—or you may even have to bail out for now. Don't be discouraged. This does not mean you won't ever go further, only that there is enough of an obstacle that you must temporarily retreat. The work on the lower bolster is plenty of challenge and will eventually prepare you to go deeper.
If this deeper position is within your capacity, take several minutes to relax into the pose just as you did with the lower bolster. Letting yourself trust the support of the bolster, slow your breath and extend your exhalation as you adjust, lengthening and broadening your back into a deep, even, comfortable arch—a prelude to the malleable spine that is desirable in all backbends. You can deepen the arching action further by either stretching your arms overhead or bending them and sliding your hands past your ears to hold the stool. In either case keep your elbows shoulder-width apart: With this alignment, you'll properly direct the bending action to your thoracic spine, instead of arching by hyperextending your shoulders. To open your chest even more, roll your top shoulder blades back toward the stool.
Approach this higher bolster with the mindfulness you have honed by working with the lesser bolster. Do not sacrifice the pumping rhythm of your breath, as it will help you stay over the bolster longer and in more comfort. Stay as long as you feel you can continue to replace tension with relaxation and expansion. To come off the bolster, slide your hips to the floor and lie back against your props. At this point, your spine should feel warm, your breath steady, and your focus sharp. You're prepared to respond with sureness to the challenges that will arise in the upcoming backbends.
Our destination in this article is Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana (Two-Legged Inverted Staff Pose), a daunting asana that requires suppleness in the spine as well as open shoulders. It is not a pose for beginners, and you may think, "That's too advanced for me!" Even if you are right, let's see how far you can go. When I'm working toward an asana I know is near my limits, I approach it in stages. Hatha yoga is, after all, a journey that places unavoidable obstacles in your path. So what if you are only able to go partway toward your goal at first? Facing obstacles in your practice is not only inescapable, it is a crucial part of practice and reveals lessons and insights even more important than the completed pose. If you practice with this attitude, you'll reap the most valuable benefits of practice—and your asanas will probably change, too.