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I have a rather small frame that appears taller when inverted. The most common phrase uttered upon students meeting me in workshops is, ‘You’re so tiny, I had no idea!’
Yes, yes. I am short. 5’2” to be exact. I don’t have the long, muscular build of a sinewy yogi. I could pass for a regular non-super yogi being on the street any day. My true yogi-powers come from my Ashtanga background where I was hell-bent on learning how to “pick-up and jump back.” This is the elusive transition that Ashtangi’s long for. I was in a room full of men who could jump back with ease, but practiced next to a girl who was the same size of me. I would watch her lithe little body pick up and gracefully transition back though vinyasa.
If she could do it, I could do it.
Fast forward a year and a million tries later, I could pick my body up and swing it back to Chaturanga. To this day, I credit most of my strength in postures from this one transition. This article only covers the pick-up element, but this is the best place to start. Get strong with this action and it will open a huge doorway of opportunity in your practice!
A key component to this lift-up action is engaging mulabandha, the “lock” at the root of the pelvis and one of three in your body. Ashtangi’s often use this lock to help them in the process of lifting their body. Right before you press down in order to pick your body up, find a slight lift your base–ladies, it feels like trying to resist the urge to run to the bathroom, and gentlemen, I’ve been told it’s like going into really cold water and you can figure out the rest.
Place two yoga blocks slightly wider than your hips on the lowest level. Sit in-between them with your palms pressing down into the center of each. Bend the knees and cross the right ankle over the left, keeping the feel loose. Hug the thighs tight into the chest while thinking “tiny little package.” Squeeze the inner thighs together and gaze upward. Take a deep inhale. Exhale, press into the blocks and lift the hips off the ground keeping only the toes on the ground. Gaze up and release the shoulders down. Hug the arms into the sides of the body for additional support. Hold for 3 breaths and return to sit. Change the crossing of the ankles and repeat.
We’re going to repeat all the same actions of the first step, just without the block. Remember how important it is to stay tiny. The closer the thighs come to the chest, the easier it is to hold the shape and lift. Think less of “picking up” and more of “pushing the ground away.” This is more of a power move to get your body to shift. Keep repeating this variation until you can hold with ease for a good 8 breaths.
Start seated on the ground, knees bent tight to the chest with the right ankle crossed over the left. Create your tiny little package and look up. Press the ground away as you exhale lifting the hips up off of the mat. Continue to draw the thighs to the chest and lift only one foot (the top foot is easiest) off of the ground. Keeping thinking ENERGY IN. Hold here for three breaths. Set down and repeat crossing the other ankle in front.
Time for the full pick-up! Repeat Step Three. Once one set of toes lifts off the ground, point the second set to lift them up as well. The thighs will need to remain tight to the body. This fires up the hip flexors and lower belly. Keep lifting through the mulabandha, keep gazing up, keep breathing! This will always feel somewhat heavy, but half of the battle is believing you can do it. Right before every pick-up, give yourself a boost of confidence by telling yourself that you are strong and capable. It will immediately lighten the load and help you to lift-off!
Kathryn Budig is a yoga teacher, writer, philanthropist,Women’s Health expert, Huffington Post, Elephant Journal, MindBodyGreen + Yoga Journal blogger, foodie, and lover of her dog. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook or on her website