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Five-Minute Yoga Challenge: move your spine in two directions at once

This is the thing I'm talking about

Gabriella at the teacher training session, with Rose Rodden

It’s March. In Vancouver, we expect cherry blossoms, rain and spring winds.

For Iyengar students, that includes the friendly blast of fresh air called Gabriella Giubilaro.

Gabriella is a senior Iyengar teacher based in Florence. Last weekend she taught her annual Vancouver workshop, ending with a four-hour teacher training on Monday.

There were themes, of course. And each one of us came away with one that resonated more than another, and is, as Gabriella would say: “your work.”

For me it was a welcome emphasis on something I’ve been working on for a while now: the separate actions of the lumbar and thoracic spines.

We would bring our arms up in Urdhva Hastasana, and hear a shout of: “Why you take your lumbar forward? Don’t take your lumbar forward!”

Or we would move into Warrior I and hear: “Why you take your dorsal back? Don’t take your dorsal back!”

It reminded me of a video I once saw of B.K.S. Iyengar. At the end of an extraordinary asana demonstration, he turned, hands on hips, and said to the audience:

“You people have your bodies all in once piece, but your minds are in a hundred pieces. I move my body in a hundred different pieces, but my mind is one.”

But how do we give opposite directions to two different parts of the spine?

This week’s Five-Minute Yoga Challenge is just that, to spend five minutes a day learning to move your upper back, or dorsal spine, forward and your lower back, back.

To get a feel for the action, stand with your back to the wall, heels about three inches from the wall.

Press into your outer feet and the balls of your big toes. Lift your inner ankles. Lift your kneecaps. From your top front thighs, press back until you feel your weight in your heels.

Plug your tailbone in. Extend your buttocks toward your heels.

Now bend your elbows and bring your palms to face each other. Place your elbows on the wall. Draw your upper arm bones back toward the wall draw your elbows slightly down.

Then press your upper arms (the two or three inches just above the elbows) into the wall. You’ll feel your shoulder blades come to life.

Press forward and up with your shoulder blades to take your chest toward the centre of the room.

Keep your lumbar spine long, thighs pressed back, weight in your heels. Hold the position for a breath or two, then push yourself away from the wall, and stand in Tadasana (mountain pose) with your arms at your sides.

If you’re just starting out, this is enough to win you the triumph of a Five-Minute Yoga Challenge as long as you work it in five times this week.

If you’re hungry for more, try the preparation in the picture above, from Monday’s teacher training session. (Rose Marie Rodden, the demo model in the picture, teaches Iyengar yoga at Mission Pilates and Yoga.)

Put a sturdy chair against a wall. Hold the top of the chair back, and walk your feet out two or three feet. Now, thinking from the front of your body,  roll your upper inner thighs towards each other. Thinking from the back of your body, roll them away from each other.  Make the action so strong that the heels fall away from each other.

Plug your tailbone in. Take your buttocks towards your heels. Then slowly, keeping the action of your tailbone and upper thighs, bring your thighs to the front edge of the chair seat. If you’re too far away, walk in.

Continue to plug the tailbone in and take the buttocks down. Then lift your thoracic chest and press forward.

When I’ve worked with this in practice over the past few days, it has always led me straight to Warrior I.

Once you’ve tried the motion, and can hold the actions in your lower back and thighs, come out, step one foot forward and one foot back. Bend your front knee, and spin the back inner thigh toward the wall behind you. Keep your lower back long.

Take your chest forward as your lumbar spine continues to move back.

If you can hold it all, take your arms up and complete Warrior I.

And, as your spine moves in two directions, check to see if your mind feels just a little bit more like one piece.

If this was your kind of post, you might also like:

Five-Minute Yoga Challenge: Lose Your Counter-Balance

If You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, How Do You Get There?

Seven Strategies for Fluid Hips

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Stefanie Renard March 24, 2011, 12:41 pm

    This was a perfect post for me today. I am very guilty of the lumbar forward move and hear that correction from Manouso many times and have a number of tools to work with it. As we know, our bodies go to their mobile places to move first. I have to teach my lumbar to have stability and work on the mobility in the dorsal spine which on most days feels like a block of cement.

    I have a question about the exercise with the chair to make sure I am understanding it. From the photo, it looks a little like a form of Urdhva Mukha Svanasana on chair. Here are my questions:

    1. The chair should support about mid thigh?
    2. One of the instructions is: “. Now roll your upper inner thighs from the front to the back, strongly, so strongly that the heels fall away from each other.” From the photo, it looks like she is taking the top inner thighs from inside out to get the heels to drop out like that but the instruction on the upper inner thighs from the front to back – I think that is the same thing – You are essentially taking the tail bone in and moving the femurs against that. Let me know if I have totally missed the point.
    3. The hands on the chair would be trying to drag it down into the floor to get that lift of the thoracic – is that correct?

    • Eve March 24, 2011, 1:04 pm

      Hey Stefanie,
      You and me both on the Gumby lumbar and the stiff dorsal spine.
      I’d say the difference from UMS on the chair would be in the work of the arms, bent here, and placed higher.
      To the questions:
      1. Where the chair supports depends on the distance from the chair. Mid-thigh is where it hits for me.
      2. I’m going to fix the wording on that “upper inner thigh,” thank you. In a nutshell, the front of the thigh, top thighs roll to the centre. From the back thigh, they roll to the outside. Same rotation, different point of view. So no, you didn’t miss the point at all, it’s the same thing.
      3. I feel my hands on the chair as stabilizing, and I don’t feel the need to drag down, just to lift away from my hands.
      Hope that helps.