From the first time I met them, I have had two demon yoga poses: arm balance and Chaturanga Dandasana.
Kicking up into arm balance scared me silly for years, but over time I’ve had recurring breakthroughs.
Chaturanga has remained an unpleasant mystery.
Every time it came up in class, it affirmed my inner suspicion that no matter how long I could hold downward dog or stand on my head, I remained a pathetic weakling.
Eventually, I learned to cope.
With three blocks, one under each hand, one between my top thighs, I could press up off the floor. My buttocks were too high, and my shoulders too close to my ears, but still, I was off the floor.
And I could do a reasonable imitation of jumping to Chaturanga from a standing forward bend, or lowering myself from plank pose.
But collapse was always imminent. All I could do was hang on.
Worst of all, I had no real clue where the work was in my body, which meant no hope of doing it better.
A month or so ago, shortly after Louie taught it as a centering pose in class, I started doing my daily sitting with my back against an outward facing corner.
It seemed like a small change, since I often did my morning sitting with back support.
In fact, it was revolutionary.
The corner is more of a guide than a support. With its feedback, I could bring my spine into a strong alignment, with the low back staying long as the chest lifts. And because I was sitting, I could hold it long enough to set the feeling in my body.
Weeks went by.
Then one day, after leaving them alone for a long time, I worked with sun salutations.
Chaturanga felt different. Instead of instant collapse, I could feel the centre of my body holding me away from the floor.
As new as it was, the feeling was somehow familiar.
Then it came to me: it felt just like pressing my lumbar spine toward an outward facing corner.
Next week I’ll write more about how this work translates into Tadansana (mountain pose) and Chaturanga.
For now, this week’s Five-Minute Yoga Challenge is to spend five minutes a day sitting with your back against an outward facing corner. Longer is better, but even five minutes will be enough to start creating the action in your body.
Fold a sticky mat in half and align it so the point of the corner sits in the centre of the mat.
If you don’t see a possible corner in your house, check the furniture. At home I use the corner of a wardrobe.
Then place as many folded blankets on the sticky mat as you need to sit in a cross-legged position with your back against the corner.
A technical note: most rooms have baseboards. So even if you can sit on the floor with the weight balanced in your sitting bones and your thighs descending, you still need a minimum stack of blankets to bring your sacrum and your upper back into the same line.
Once you have settled with as many blankets as you need to sit with your spine against the wall – as many as six for those with tight hips – bring your back very close to the corner. It should touch your sacrum and come into the crack between the upper buttocks.
Press your hands down into your blankets and lift your side ribs.
Sit tall, and notice where your spine touches the wall.
For most of us, the thoracic, or dorsal spine (the shoulder blade area), will press into the wall, and the lower back will move away.
• Exhale, curl your chest and shoulders forward and press your lumbar spine into the corner.
• Slowly straighten up. Resist your lumbar spine back toward the corner as you lift your chest.
• Engage your shoulder blades by taking the upper arms back toward the wall behind you, and stretching your elbows toward the floor.
• Lift the spine between your shoulder blades away from the corner and up.
• Move the back of your head back and up.
Notice the play between the lumbar moving back and the thoracic spine moving forward.
Think less about contact with the wall than direction: the lumbar spine moves back and up as the dorsal spine lifts and moves forward.
And remember, no resting on the corner.
When you’re ready to come out, lie on your back with your knees bent, and let your back settle into the floor. Then do a soft, bent-knee twist (Jathara Parivartanasana), before going on with your practice or your day.
See you next week, when we make the connection between sitting and Chaturanga Dandasana.
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