Mastering the Art of Dropbacks
Learning to dropback from standing to Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel Pose) is challenging. Here model Chrisandra Fox demonstrates the proper technique.
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Mastering dropbacks can take years, so try not to rush the process. Instead, be curious about as you evolve on your path toward the pose. Falling back into space takes a lot of faith. To develop confidence and skill, practice dropping back at a wall for as long as you need to. Keep your eyes wide open. Make sure your feet and legs stay in Tadasana-like alignment, breathe into your back body, and feel a strong connection between the earth and your feet. That connection is what will give you the ability to soar up and back into your backbend.
When you decide to come away from the wall, start by having a partner nearby as a security blanket. Establish your firm and organized Tadasana with your feet slightly wider than your hips and your palms together.
Lift your chest but don't let your head go back until you absolutely can't look forward any more. Keep your legs straight! Press your thigh bones back, back, back, even though your pelvis is moving forward in spacethis will help keep you balanced. There is always oppositional activity in yoga, and this is a perfect example of how to create that balance. As the pelvis moves forward horizontally, the weight of the head can drop back as a counterbalance. The thighs will have to go with the pelvis a bit, but energetically the thighs do not go forwardthey draw back. If both the thighs and the pelvis move forward, there is no tension, no relationship, no yoga. There is just collapsing energy that does not support the spine and leads to pain and injury in the lower back. In order for the spine to be soft and supple (which is necessary in any backbend), your legs must be strong and stable. If the legs get soft, the spine will harden, making it difficult to bend.
When you can't bend back anymore with straight legs, let your arms circle down by your sides and toward the floor. Your legs will start to bend at this point, and your strong arms will catch you as you arrive in Urdhva Dhanurasana.
There will probably be a moment when you feel that you are hanging out in space. Your hands won't be on the floor yet, and you will be inside out and upside down. The strength and grounding of the legs will help slow down the process, but it still happens pretty fast.
Let's face ityou might not do a dropback for years! But you've created the causes and conditions for it to happen by connecting to the earth while opening your chest, using the strength of your legs to allow for suppleness in your spine, and letting the wall help you establish a clear pathway for the action of dropping back.
Now your job isyou guessed itto practice, practice, practice. As you do, can you be curious and mindful about that process? It won't be yoga practice if you do it by rote. The yoga masters say that the mind and body must participate together in every moment of the process in order for us to be in a state of yoga.
In other words, when you can pay close attention to your experience as it unfolds, with each breath, each movement, each thought, each asana, and each transitionthen you will be in a state of yoga. Don't try to hold on to that state either, but let it be a moment of change, an opening, a transformation.
The instruction above is excerpted from the Master Class column appearing in the September 2009 issue of Yoga Journal, written by Cyndi Lee.
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