Kathryn Budig teaches an ever-so-slightly more accessible version of Ganda Bherundasana (aka Formidable Face Pose), which she swears is really worth working at. Ready to try?
This is such a "wow" pose when you first see it, like a yoga party drug. Ganda Bherundasana means "Formidable Face Pose," which basically means it ends resting flat on your face with your feet on floor, straddling your head. You don't see the full expression of this pose often (check out page 416 in B.K.S. Iyengar's Light on Yoga if you want to see a master perform this particular party trick). Suffice to say, we can practice prep variations of the pose and still derive some of the benefits, including toning of the spine and abdominal organs.
In the version presented here, we'll focus more on the core-strengthening elements and leave the face plant to the imagination. Still, students wonder how could it be possible to even create this shape in the body. Like any pose, it is very accessible when practiced regularly. I like to say that the impossible continues to be that way until one day it simply becomes possible. I've noticed students from shy and coy to popping this pose in during transitions whenever they can. There's a lot of joy that runs through the veins of this pose. My advice is to keep at this one. It WILL feel insane at first, but you'll just end up insanely happy if you don't give up.
5 Steps to Ganda Bherundasana
Grab two blocks and place them lengthwise on their medium height. The blocks should be shoulder-width apart. Come into Downward-Facing Dog with the fingertips directly behind the blocks.
Walk the feet several inches forward into a shorter Down Dog. Bend the elbows placing the shoulder heads in the middle of the blocks. Palms remain flat with the fingertips directly behind the blocks. Walk the feet in like Dolphin Pose, ensuring the lift of the hips. This action is absolutely crucial to achieve the full pose. Get the hips high and keep them there! You'll need this height to have something to kick toward (hips low to the ground won't give you the lift of the pose we're going for).
Focusing on the height of the hips, lift one leg high into the air. Cultivate the energy of standing splits by keeping the hips square, back of the knee spreading, and the toes fanning wide. Reach the top leg like it's cracked out on caffeine. You need to animate this top leg so the lower one has something to match--something to reach for.
Keep the top leg reaching like it's just had five espresso shots. Bend the bottom leg and give a slight hop. Once the bottom leg has left the floor, draw it up from the pit of your belly to bring the legs together. Hug the thighs close and spread the toes as if they're trying to grab something off of the ceiling. NOTE: Your chin may rest on the floor as long as you don't sit on it. The shoulders continue to press into the blocks to help release the base of the neck. Keep the core engaged and the tailbone lifting to prevent pitching or sitting in the lower back. Thighs hug tight to suck the energy and weight of the legs to the sky.
Keep practicing this pose with blocks until it becomes second nature. Once you're comfortable with the supported version you can play without the blocks. Start in a short stance Downward- Facing Dog. Lift one leg and reach intensely. Keep the gaze forward and bend the elbows taking the face toward the ground and past the fingertips. As you bend deeper, keep the hands shoulder-width apart but squeeze the elbows in toward each other. (I like to call this move Push-Up Bra pose--try to smush the ladies!) Rest the chest and ribs on the triceps, making sure that your bottom is still high in the air. Bend the bottom leg and give a slight hop or energetically pull the leg up to meet the top one by engaging the core and reaching almost obsessively towards the ceiling. Again, chin CAN rest on the floor (as you'll often see in photos of this pose) as long as the shoulders don't collapse. Though, I recommend keeping the chin off the ground to keep the neck happy and safe. This requires more squeeze through the arms and more lift through the legs.