When I first started doing yoga in the early 2000s, there seemed to be an unspoken belief that if you couldn’t do a pose—including the infamous Ashtanga jump-through—you just weren’t trying hard enough.
In the Ashtanga system, the jump-through is a common transition between postures—and it was one I couldn’t do. I repeatedly lamented to my teachers that my hips were too tight and my legs were too long to jump forward from Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog) directly through to Dandasana (Staff Pose). They dismissed my concerns. “You’ll get it,” they assured me. “Just keep trying.”
I’d peer around the room at people skating their straight legs between their wrists, their bums landing silently between their palms as if they were gymnasts on a pommel horse. Meanwhile, my bum—not to mention my ego—was sore and bruised from never making it past the middle of my mat.
Using props can help with jump-throughs
One day, after literally years of ramming my heels into my forearms and chickening out at the last second, I finally did a jump-through during my home practice. I was elated! But as I was setting up to try it again, I felt riddled with guilt because technically I hadn’t done it on my own—at least not by my own perception—because I had used props.
Traditionally in Mysore Ashtanga, people don’t practice jumping forward with props. Yet putting my hands on blocks and socks on my feet made my once clunky, seemingly impossible jump-through smooth, almost easy. Surely I had cheated or done something wrong.
Then I asked myself aloud, “Who said I couldn’t use props?”
After doing a few repeat runs and observing the space and freedom the props afforded my jump-throughs, I quickly transformed my guilt into an understanding that for my body, props are a necessity. Being unable to get my legs through my hands had nothing to do with laziness or a lack of desire. I just needed a little help.
For my body and this transition, I may always need props. That does not mean I’m cheating or taking the easy way out. In fact, I consider it challenging and courageous to stand up for what I need, especially when everyone else in the room is doing something different. And isn’t the true lesson of yoga? To be able to heed our internal needs above the noise of the external.
A practice to build up to jump-thoughs
The exercises below rely on props to help make jump-throughs more accessible than ever before.
Having short or tight hop flexors—the muscles that pull your thigh to your chest—can prevents you from easily getting your legs through your hands. That’s because if your hip flexors are tight, it’s hard to draw your legs close enough to your chest to pull them through simultaneously. Practicing one-legged squats is much more accessible and helpful for balance. It also allows you to feel the intention of the movement.
Step 1. Start in Virabhadrasana 3 (Warrior 3) standing on your right leg with your left leg lifted and both hands on blocks.
Step 2: On your exhale, start to bend your right knee as you draw your left leg in between your arms and start to push your left heel forward toward the wall in front of you. You can practice bringing the leg through straight or you may need to bend your left knee a bit.
Step 3: Once your leg is through, pause here, squatting on your right tippy toes and hovering your left leg in front of you. Stay here for a full breath, then return back to Warrior 3. Repeat 3 times, moving with your breath. Switch legs.
The ability to pull both thighs up to your chest requires a few things: strength in your hip flexors, length in your hamstrings, and core strength. Try playing around with a blanket and a slick floor and start to slide between Plank and Uttanasana. It’s a fun—yet challenging—way to build the strength and practice the actions necessary to draw your legs forward.
Step 1: Fold your mat a couple of times so you have extra padding under your hands. Place your a blanket on wood or concrete floors (or wear socks on carpet). Come to Plank Pose with your feet on the blanket and your hands on your mat.
Step 2: On an exhale, begin to pull your feet toward your hands, passing through Adho Mukha Svanasana. (It’s harder than it looks!)
Step 3: Draw your feet all the way up to Uttanasanana (Standing Forward Bend). If you get stuck halfway, just go as far as you can for now. Inhale and slide your feet back to Plank Pose. Slide back and forth five times, moving with your breath.
One of the components of the jump-through is more psychological than physical, and that is the whole flying aspect. It can be startling at first to realize, “Woah, my legs are no longer on the floor and I’m truly flying through my arms!” Practicing Eka Pada Viparita Dandasana (One-Legged Inverted Staff Pose or Standing Splits) not only helps warm up your hamstrings, it helps us adjust to having a different perspective.
Standing at the top of your mat, fold forward into Uttanasana. Place your hands on blocks on either side of your feet. Inhale your left leg up to the sky behind you. Allow your head to hang down, keeping your shoulders lifting. Have your eyes open and find a gazing point at the back of your mat. Hold for 8 breaths. Lower your lifted leg back through Uttanasana and repeat on your opposite leg.
Jump-Through With Props
Here it is. The big moment.
Step 1: Come into Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog) with your hands on blocks. I like my blocks on medium height as I’m a little over 5 foot 8 inches, but you can have them on the lowest height if that feels more stable. Inhale onto your toes.
Step 2: On an exhale, look between your palms and start to bend your knees slightly and pull your thighs tightly toward your chest.
Step 3: While still on that exhale, continue to swing your legs in between your arms. As your legs are coming through, try to actively straighten your legs, but if you need to bend your knees, no problem!
Step 4: As you bring your legs forward, keep pressing your heels forward toward the wall in front of you.
Step 5: Press into your hands and try to land lightly on your bum. If you feel like you’re getting stuck on your heels, roll up your mat and set it aside, then put your blocks directly on the wood floor and slip socks on your feet so you can slide through until you learn how to jump through. Figure out what works for your body and own it!