Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana (Two-Legged Inverted Staff Pose)
With a powerful exhalation, press down through your elbows and lift your chest to raise your head off the floor. As your head lifts, bring your heels down. Of course, your head may seem glued to the floor; if that's the case, continue to hold the pose where you are. If you do manage to lift your head, the pose may actually become easier, since this movement allows your upper arms to directly support your weight, easing the demand on your muscles. But be careful not to strain the shoulder joints by pushing them beyond your elbows. Avoid this overextension by keeping your weight evenly distributed between your elbows and wrists, and by not allowing your elbows to drift more than shoulder-width apart. It is absolutely fine to remain in this position, with your head raised and your feet directly below your knees. In the full pose, however, you walk the feet away from your hands until your legs are nearly straight; then you plant your feet and exhale as you stretch down through your calves and push to straighten the legs completely. Place the crown of your head back on the floor inside the cup of your hands, extend your elbows into the floor, and rotate your top shoulder blades toward your tailbone to help your shoulders stay lifted. Your middle back will be asked to bend more deeply.
Now is the time to fully incorporate the inner quality you found during your time over the bolster. Don't lose your internal focus in the challenge of the moment. Do your best to maintain a steady breath rate. Use your breath, like a heart, to pump movement that reverberates through you, extending on your inhalation, opening on your exhalation, and softening hard edges to create a pose that is strong and peaceful.
Come out of this asana with great attention. First, walk your feet back under your knees. Continuing to balance on your head and to lift your shoulders, return your palms to the floor next to your ears. Again check to make sure your hands are directly under your elbows. Push with your hands to lift the head and tuck your chin and tailbone in as you roll your spine back down to the floor, tailbone touching last. Consciously slow your breathing down until you are once again at rest and can feel the powerful calm that is the product of balanced backbends.
Of course, such a dynamic pose as this will make you aware—perhaps painfully so—that asking the body to be flexible and strong simultaneously is a tall order. Difficult as these demands may be, they present an opportunity to maintain an asana using the skills of introspection, breathing, and surrender—skills that eventually transform a pose from an impossibility or an exercise in brute strength into a lucid, precise, poised asana. Practicing with this focus leads to sthira sukha ("steady comfort," Patanjali's definition of asana), a state in which the fluctuations of the mind have stilled and one finds a state of immense clarity that shines forth from within.
Barbara Benagh has been practicing yoga since 1974. She is grateful to her first teacher, Elizabeth Keeble, in Birmingham, England. Barbara teaches seminars throughout the United States and has a particular fondness for her small school, The Yoga Studio, in downtown Boston, and for the devoted students there.