The last Challenge Pose post tackled how to Pick Up in a yoga pose. The Pick Up is eventually followed by the Jump Back, which is the traditional way to keep heat and fire in the body during the seated sequence in Ashtanga yoga. It is an intense power move and also one of the most fluid and graceful transitions in yoga. It isn't frequently taught unless you practice Ashtanga, so I'm hoping to open a whole jar of "pick-up and jump-back" worms into the world.
PRACTICE THIS. Not only will this transition make you incredibly strong, it will make you deeply aware and confident. There is a grace to knowing you can lift your own body weight and decide where you'd like to transfer it. It makes for a great way to convince someone that you are indeed a Ninja.
Place two yoga blocks on their lowest level slightly wider than your hips. Sit in between them with your palms pressing down into the center of each. Bend your knees and cross your right ankle over the left, keeping the feet loose. Hug the thighs tightly into your chest while thinking, "tiny little package." Squeeze your inner thighs together and gaze upward. Take a deep inhalation. Exhale, press into the blocks and lift your hips off the ground keeping only your toes on the ground. Gaze up and release your shoulders down. Hug your arms into the sides of your body for additional support. Hold for 3 breaths and return to sitting or continue onto Step Two from this point.
From the Pick Up position, draw up from the pit of your belly (Mulabandha). Practice a swinging action here. Remember, in order for something to go up, something else must go down. Swing your legs through your arms and BEND your elbows. You're going to get nowhere fast if you keep the arms straight. As soon as the feet pass through the gateway of the arms, bend. This will feel scary because you're swinging your face toward the ground at a somewhat rapid speed. Trust me, you'll get used to it. And even in a worst-case scenario, you are incredibly close to the ground; it won't hurt much if you hit.
Keep practicing the swing element. Try to do it three times in a row keeping your thighs tucked tightly to your chest and your ankles tucked in toward your buns. Push your hands deeply into the blocks to engage the rebound action of rounding your back. This will give you additional height to clear the Shoot Back. The gaze remains forward.
Once you become efficient at the swing part, see if you can lift, swing the legs through as you bend the elbows, and HOLD. The key here is to keep yourself in the tiny little package position. If you let your legs drop, everything else will collapse. Stay tiny, round the upper back, press into the blocks, and breathe.
You can Shoot Back into Chaturanga from the swing or hold. Obviously, if you're new to this, momentum will make a huge difference. Practice the swing and once your elbows come into a full 90-degree angle and the feet have cleared your arms, continue to shoot them back like an arrow. I find the more you think about it the harder it gets. Commit to the action. Inhale, lift. Exhale, swing and shoot it back! Again, if you fall it's just a mere belly flop.
Once you garner more control, practice the Pick Up with the hold in the bent elbow position. As slowly as possible, shoot it back from here. This means an extension of the heart, a deep press into the ground, a hug of the inner thighs, and a lift of the lower belly. Keep the elbows hugging in tightly to the midline to support the tunnel action of the transition. Always keep your eyes on the road.
A Note on Blocks:
It's incredibly helpful to feel the actions of the Pick Up and Jump Back by using the blocks, but try not to get too attached to them. Once you feel the actions and the strength, start working on these things without the blocks; otherwise, you'll get too used to them. You will have to press more, lift higher, and stay more compact, but it will become easier with time and dedication.
This transition takes serious dedication. Try not to mark your calendar on when this will happen. Just keep showing up to your practice and give it your best. It's all coming.
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.