Urdhva dhanurasana

Different levels of flexibility

Urdhva dhanurasana, July 2021

Urdhva dhanurasana, July 2021

Being flexible can mean being able to do asana that require a stretched and flexible body.

Another level of flexibility is to switch easily from back bending to forward bending asanas and the other way round.

My back bending asanas feel good these days. Yet usually I practice easier back bending asanas first and then I move to more challenging ones. I start with salabhasana as recommended in the second Ashtanga yoga series. I exercise up to eight back bending asanas till I give my best at urdhva dhanurasana. The repetition of so many back bending asanas allows me to go deeper and deeper. At the end my body is soft and stretched. To bend backward feels good.

Today I practiced primary, because I need core strength. The movements between asanas are lost. It’s mainly jumping forward and jumping backwards. After all these vinyasa and forward bending asanas it was so difficult to practice urdhva dhanurasana. It felt so weakly and awkwarrdly that I consider to add preparation asanas next time.

The picture is taken yesterday without an intensive warm up. I think it’s visible. More is possible.

I’m sure that one can train the body to get fast from forward bending asanas to back bending asanas. It’s possible to switch fast from twists to balancing asanas. My body needs a bit more time to adjust.

These days I’m happy when I can get deeper into asanas. It’s OK to move from easy to challenging asanas. It’s fine to repeat asanas. There are ‘good’ days and ‘stiff’ days. The energy level changes every day. I learn to listen to my body.

Surely the more advanced a yogini is the less volatile is the practice. Nevertheless every day is different for everybody. This makes the yoga practice also interesting. Take care.

For me the playful practices are as precious as the ambitious practices.

Two more days and another yoga week is over.

Urdhva dhanurasana - a detailed approach

Urdhva dhanurasana, June 2021

Urdhva dhanurasana, June 2021

This is how my urdhva ddhanurasana looks these days. It’s visible that I worked on back bending.

My understanding about back bending deepened. It allowed me to work with different body parts separately.

  • The leg muscles need to be strong in order to come out of the pose. Equally important is to stretch them.

  • Most of us have a sedentary life. Many Ashtanga practitioners practice primary for years these days. The hip flexor is shortened therefore. This makes back bending difficult. To stretch the hip flexor takes time, it comes with discomfort. Yet finally flexibility can improve. In order to stretch the hip flexors I add exercises during my practice. I work on the splits every day as well.

  • The entire body can get lengthened if one hangs over a high chair so that feet and hands are in the air. One can also hang at a bar.

  • To stretch the shoulders and upper body made a huge difference for my back bending ablilities.

  • The arms need to be strong in order to lift up the body. Isolated strength training can be done.

  • It’s also important to get into the pose correctly.

  • Deep breathing supports the movement.

A goal is to feel good when performing an asana. To stretch and to work on strength comes with discomfort. Otherwise nothing happens. Yet finally an asana can bring joy. It can be possible to relax in an awkward looking position. Sometimes I reach this status, sometimes not. Often an asana feels better at the second and third attempt. Not to give up too early can be rewarding.

My yoga week has started. The first surya namaskars is always a bit stiff, but soon the body woke up.

Explore your possibilities.

Life is an experiment. Be courageous.

Hard work shows results.

Urdhva dhanurasana June 2020

Urdhva dhanurasana June 2020

I had a clear goal in mind. Feet and hands should get closer to each other. Last time four boards were between hands and feet. I got closer. To have only 3 boards between hands and feet was the goal. I’m not yet there, but I’m closer. This astonished me when I checked my pictures. I thought it would take longer to minimize the distance between hands and feet.

I did stretching exercises for the hips (lunges).

I did additional stretching exercises for the upper body and the shoulders (hangman i.e.) This allowed me to get deeper into this back bending asana.

I usually hold this pose for one minute. I start a timer. It’s still a challenge and I’m always close to give up. But I hold it. This stretches the body. The body gets familiar with the asana.

Most important is to practice safely. I always try to get safe into this pose:

  1. I start from lying on my back. I bring the feet as close to the body as possible. Feet shall be parallel to each other. It feels as if they are turned inwardly. The pictures proofs that the feet are rather parallel.

  2. I put the hands under my shoulders.

  3. The next step is important. I press the back on the floor. This causes a movement of the hips, that prepares for the back bending. I engage the bandhas to protect at least the SI joints.

  4. Then I lift the body up, till the crown of my head is on the floor.

  5. With the next inhaling I get into the pose. I try to keep the elbows parallel. I also try to get into the pose without moving to the feet and then swinging back. It’s recommended to get straight into this pose.

  6. Finally I adjust. In order to have an even bridge I push the body to the hands with my feet.

  7. I breathe deeply. After a while I walk the hands closer till I reach my limit.

Those who experienced injuries especially back injuries know that it’s important to practice correctly. Strong legs are important, strong arms, too. A strong core is useful, too. Yet it’s recommended to create length in order to bend. This allows to relax the lower back.

This picture is taken after many many back bends. I was prepared for this asana. It’s summer here, it got warmer. Warm weather is such a support for the practice.

Falling in love with the process.

Urdhva dhanurasana 2009 and 2020

Urdhva dhanurasana 2009 and 2020

Between these two pictures lies a decade of practicing yoga and also practicing urdhva dhanurasana.

The first picture was taken by a friend. I had not yet discovered the self-timer of the camera. I wanted to see if my back bending was so deep already that it was possible to come up. It took years till I could drop into this pose from a standing position. I learned this skill and lost it again.

The second picture is taken 2020 after recovering from this back injury (SI joint went crazy) that accompanied me for about two years. These days I practice more effectively. I hold the poses longer. I stretch different body parts isolated. I thing it’s visible that the pose improved. But it didn’t improve very much. I mean 11 years are a long time and the difference between these two pictures is not so huge. Perhaps I’m wrong, because the inner work that I do these days cannot be seen. But that’s how it is. Patience is needed and perhaps I’m just before a real breakthrough. Haha…… It’s not so important. I love this asana and I love to work on it. My understanding of this pose deepened. I learned how to stretch, how to become stronger.

I’ve other asanas in my library that show more development. Every pose is different.

This morning I held this pose again 1 minute. I was surprised when I heard the alarm of my timer. One minute became shorter already.

Back bending step by step

What was possible yesterday, needn’t be possible today.

The first three pictures were taken yesterday. The last one was taken today. I see progress. I count the boards and realize that my hands are closer to the feet already.

My question is what is the next tiny step in the right direction?

  • In order to improve an asana it’s always good to repeat this asana up to three times. Each time it gets more approachable. The first exercise is to feel it. It is a starting point. The first repetition is an opportunity to find the limits. The second repetition is rather a cool down. To give always 120 % is nonsense.

  • Another tiny step is always to hold an asana minimum 1 minute. 1 minute is about 15 breath and this is longer as I hold an asana in general. Stretching needs time.

There are always also specific next tiny steps:

  • In the first picture I used a prop, my wheel.

  • In the second picture I got into the pose with the wheel, but then I pushed it away and folded my hands behind my head. Unfortunately the elbows drifted apart from each other. I don’t know yet how to keep them together.

  • In the third picture I moved into the pose without a wheel. The palms of the hand are on the floor. This makes a huge difference.

  • The forth picture is the classic urdhva dhanurasana.

A next tiny step can be to lift the head in forearm bridge.

What looks easy is very difficult. This is my absolut limit. The hard work shows results. I’m very happy with the urdhva dhanurasana on the last picture, that I took today.

Today I held this pose again 1 minute. Today was a day that allowed me to be very committed. My pain tolerance was high. I know that every day is different.

Back bending

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Yesterday was a day off from yoga. The body needs this day. I slept a lot and was lazy. After only one day the body is already a tiny bit less flexible. Yet I felt strong. I was yearning for my practice. The body felt fresh and relaxed. I was motivated.

Again I realized how important it is to focus on one topic. Today it was back bending. The one and only goal for this week is to hold urdhva dhanurasana (UD) for 1 minute and 20 sec. I need these 20 sec to switch on the timer and to get into the pose. Today I could hold UD already a few sec longer than last week. I’ll aim for 25 breaths. Then the alarm should tell me that it’s done. My breaths is faster than in relaxing positions. The average number of breaths within a minute is 15. Yet if a position is exhausting the body meeds more oxygen that is more breaths.

When I practice I don’t take pictures these days, because I want to focus on the practice. Taking pictures is motivating, but also distracting. The above picture is taken after my yoga practice. I experimented. Imagine: Some yogini can reach the head with their feet. No joke. I don’t think that this position will support my back bending goals in general. Nice to have tried it out.

The wheel an be a useful prop. Not every position over this wheel makes sense.

The yoga week has started. I’m looking forward to the coming week.

Back bending

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Thursday:

I practiced before breakfast. Before breakfast is the best time to practice. After an exhausting practice the breakfast tastes so delicious, so deserved. This is of course not the main reason. To twist and stretch with a full stomach feels awfully.

Today was my back bending day. Time flies so fast that 90 minutes are too short for a full second series. I do a lot of extra asanas.

Every day I do the splits do stretch the front side of the body. I also practice urdhva dhanurasana against the wall. I repeat ustrasana up to three times. I think that this time is not wasted. I realize progress. Repetitions and holding the asanas for 1 minute minimum is useful.

I also practice variations. To lift the arm while practicing urdhva dhanurasana might help psychologically. One arm is already up, so it seems possible to come up. Right now I’m still working on getting the hands closer to the legs.

Patience is necessary.

Yesterday Carmen (cyogalife on Instagram) published two back bending picture, one was taken in 2015 the other one in 2020. When I saw the former picture I thought that she was very close to reach her calves. It still took 5 years!!!! till she was there. Even she thought that she had been close already to catch the calves. She didn’t expect to need 5 years to reach the calves. Yoga can teach not to give up.

If something is difficult it’s also often attractive. Things that are too easy to accomplish seem boring. That’s why talented flexible strong yogini often give up the practice entirely.

In the meantime I see advantages if something is tough. One learns patience. Difficulties invite to reflect on the method. One learns to learn.

Karl Lagerfeld once said: I love the battle field.

In life we learn more when facing difficulties. It’s the same on the mat.

I know there is a long way to go to the calves. Step by step a lot can be accomplished. First the hands shall walk closer to the feet. One day urdhva dhanurasana will feel fantastic again.