In the last post we tackled the first part of dropping back—reaching into the void! I say that because it’s exactly what it feels like. We’re reaching back into nothing hoping that the ground will be kind to us if and when we get there. That’s why we focused on using a wall and will do the same this week. (I’ll be using the wall for all of these demonstrations, as you'd want a teacher to aid you away from the wall.)
Today we focus on not only gaining more flexibility in our back and strength in our legs, but also the confidence it takes to stand up from a backbend. From my experience, if I tell myself I can’t do something then I can’t—I’ve put the heavy weight of denial into my body and standing becomes impossible. On the flip side, if I commit to my strength, body, potential, and to the pose, it might not look pretty, but I get far closer to my end goal. Use this as a lesson in prepping the body and mind, as this is the true essence of yoga—and key to executing a dropback.
You don't want to tackle dropping back into full backbend (Urdhva Dhanurasana) without being comfortable in the full backbend first! Take a look at my Challenge Pose blog dedicated to Urdhva Dhanurasana here first before continuing on.
Take two blocks to the wall and place them at their lowest level so that the widest sides are flush against the wall, shoulder-width apart. Lay on your back with your head facing the wall and your knees bent with your feet flat and hip-width apart. Makes sure your feet are entirely parallel to each other—you might want to think "toes in, heels out" as most of us like to externally rotate the legs. Reverse your palms and place the heels of your hands onto the blocks with your fingers curling around the edges. Hug your elbows in so that they stack over your wrists. Push into your feet and lift your hips as you press into the blocks to lift your head and come onto the crown.
Adjust your elbows here, so that they are shoulder-width apart and keep the shoulders plugged into their sockets. Press down onto the blocks to lift your head and chest straight up. Renew the rotation of your arms—hug the upper outer edges of your arms in so it feels like you’re shrinking your armpits and relaxing the base of your neck. Don’t try to look anywhere, just let your head relax. If possible, walk your feet in toward your hands a few inches and push your shinbones back. Keep the squeeze of the arms and gently draw your throat and heart toward the wall to deepen the backbend. Root into your heels and think of the pelvis lifting directly up to the ceiling. Take 8 full breaths. Then walk your feet back out, bend your elbows but keep them shoulder-width apart, and tuck your chin to come down onto your back.
You’ll repeat this same set of actions but progressively take the height of the blocks up. Next place them at medium height, still with the widest part flush against the wall. On round 3 (if you’re body is ready to progress. Remember there is no rush!) you won’t be able to pause on the crown of your head because of the height of the blocks. You’ll also want to focus on not only pushing into the blocks, but also on pushing them into the wall to make them more stable (use a sticky mat under the blocks to prevent slipping). Depending on your flexibility, some of you may be able to walk your feet in and rest your throat on the wall. Focus on zipping your tailbone forward toward your knees and rotating the upper inner thighs down to broaden and release your upper back.
If you can do the backbend on the tallest side of the block with ease, you’re ready to try and walk yourself up the wall to stand! While in your backbend with your hands on the blocks, take a moment to focus on your legs. Keep the toes in and heels out as they will now want to splay (you can even take a strap around your thighs to keep them hip-width apart). Root into the heels and remember to roll the inner thighs down. Lift your heart with even more vigor and take one hand off the block and place it several inches above at the wall. Repeat this action with your other hand and climb the wall, pushing into it to help bring the weight into your legs with the heart lifting. When you feel like you can’t climb anymore and you have a solid amount of weight in your legs, pause. Push both palms flat into the wall and work the rotation of your arms to broaden your upper back. Relax your head and lift your entire upper chest as much as you can. Pop onto your fingertips and feel even more weight come into your legs. Keeping the head hanging back give yourself a count of 3—1, 2, and on 3 continue the upward rolling motion of the spine leading with your heart to stack your vertebrae and come all the way up to stand.
NOTE: You will want to lift your head and look where you’re going because it’s human nature. Resist the urge to look up. The skull is incredibly heavy and will most likely tweak your neck. Trust the everything is exactly where you left it and envision your legs as tree trunks—strong and stable waiting to do their job to support you.
The other temptation is to bring one arm at a time way from the wall. This throws off the symmetry of the body and creates a difficult habit to break. Always leave the wall with both hands (same for dropping back) and lead with the power in your legs and lift in your chest. If this is too fearful for you, have someone hold your hips for moral support until you trust your body.
Kathryn Budig is jet-setting yoga teacher who teaches online at Yogaglo. She is the Contributing Yoga Expert for Women’s Health Magazine, Yogi-Foodie for MindBodyGreen, creator of Gaiam’s Aim True Yoga DVD, co-founder of Poses for Paws and author of Rodale’s The Women’s Health Big Book of Yoga . Follow her on Twitter; Facebook; or on her website. Come practice with Kathryn on retreat in February in Maui, Hawaii.