Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Public Answer to a Private Question

Okay the question was asked in private but it is by no means personal so I am answering it here in case my answer is useful to others out there in the blogosphere.

So, my advanced class has decided to take on Eka Pada Rajakapotasana over the next six weeks, and I would love to get your opinion on what sort of series of events you would take your class through in this scenario. We started things off last week with strong leg work in poses like Vira I and II, Baddha Konasana, and Rajakapotasana prep. I know shoulder loop seems to be a big challenge for this group and I'm hoping I can take some of Saturday's class to them and see improvements. What else is going to be important?

Part of the back story on this question had to do with a discussion we had in one of our session about how do one might take these more advanced poses that we work on in the Immersion for 3 hours and translate them into the public class format? In the Immersion we have all been getting together and learning the principles and building on our knowledge and how can we make that happen at the studio and in the public classes we take?

So I suggested that you make a plan for a peak pose that you are going to work on and/or toward for a given period of time. Then you tell your students your plan so they are aware that there is a method to the madness, so to speak. And then you go about building it. So there are two main streams of things that are involved in "working on and toward poses" in my opinion. (there are probably more- for instance even as I write I am thinking of a third stream- the psychological stream. But if you do your job in the other streams, the psychological stream should get addressed along the way...ideally, that is.)

So in working toward a pose you have to consider "what actions are necessary to achieve that pose?" What does a student need to be proficient at so that when they are at their edge they can access something familiar that will make the pose move more into possibility? If you do not know how to draw your arm bones back in a standing pose, chances are it is going to be hard to do when you are on your head about to go up to urdhva dnaurasana. Blinding flash of the obvious, right?

The second thing I think about, while not unrelated, obviously, but which is not exactly the same thing either, is "What needs to be open and what needs to be strengthened for people to achieve the form?" For instance, my pet peeve in yoga is when teachers teach an advanced variation of something when the fundamental building block pose for it isn't established. Like, why work on scorpion if you cannot balance in pinca? It doesn't make sense. Sure it can be fun and all that but if you are totally dependent on your partner holding you up then really, is that the most effective use of your time and energy? Now I know people may disagree with that, but it is my blog and therefore my opinion...

So for eka pada rajakapotasana (EPRK ) we have to look at what the students need to know how to do in the legs and in the upper back and in the arm.

In the legs, the student needs to know how to draw in (Muscle Energy) to make the spine long and the inner body bright and to create length along the side body. They also need to know how extend out from the pelvis into the foundation (Organic Energy) without losing the mid-line and core stability that the muscle energy gave them. This is key to balance. Many people lose balance in this pose and that is because they are either not drawing in in the first place or once they extend out they lose the stability they created for themselves.

I actually teach a drill for this where you can draw in and lift yourself up 3-5 inches with Muscle Energy and then extend out with Organic Energy without dropping to the floor. Repeat this 3-5 times on each side. Fun times.

Once the foundation is established we need to make sure there is a kidney loop and pelvic loop strongly established so the pose has length and begins as vertically as possible so there is minimal compression to the lumbar spine. So this can be practiced in the prep form but also in anjaneyasana, vira 1, parsvottanasana in upright and/or backbended stage or in hanumanasana.

Students definitely need to know how to establish shoulder loop without losing the kidneys. In my opinion very little opens the shoulder loop as well as shoulder stand and going from shoulder stand to setu bandhasana like we did on Sunday. Good stuff. (Well, there is a ton of stuff for that with chairs, but in terms of straight poses, shoulder stand is awesome for so many reasons. Also dwi pada viparita dandasana is a good pre-requisite pose.)

And the work of the arm itself- at a bare minimum they must understand "plugging in" but more helpful are those three points we worked with on Saturday- outer shoulder blade, inner deltoid, outer elbow. Learning to work those points when the arm is in the overhead plane is the key to the arm work in the pose. urdhva hasatasana, down dog, handstand, parsvakonasana but also poses like gomukhasana arms will teach the top arm what it has to do.

So the other part is the student must have some proficiency and success at: externally rotating their legs (that is the work of the front leg), the quads must be really open (the task of the back leg), they have to have, not only a bendable upper back (shoulder loop) but an openness to the shoulder joint and an ability to articulate the bone in the socket. So in preparing for the pose, you have to open the hips, stretch the thighs, stretch and prepare the whole spine, bend the upper back and open the shoulder socket without overstretching it.

Now what I mean by psychological is really that you want each stage to build confidence through competence. Like if students are not really doing these things and we are praising them, then it is false confidence and when they get to the full pose and they are unprepared it can go bad and then it is not empowering. But if at every stage the component parts are built, then they head into the finished pose prepared and confident they will have a greater likelihood for success and breakthrough as opposed to break down!

Okay, there is more but that is a month of work at least!

Oh, one more thing. Mr. Iyengar says that there are four pillars of advanced back bends. urdhva danurasana, dwi pada viparita dandasana, kapotasana, and mandalasana. So he says if you can do those well, the other advance poses come easily. And while many people can do EPRK and not mandalasana, etc. his idea makes sense to me because those four poses address all these issues. Just something to consider. So I keep fantasizing about a backbending intensive called the Four Pillars. Stay tuned for info on that. Maybe in March.

Of course he also says the four poses that you need to make pascimottansasan good are janu sirsasana, ardha badha padma pascimottanasana, triangamukaikapada pascimottanasana. and maricyasana 1. And I think most of those poses are harder to do well than pascimottasana.Also he says halasana prepares pascimottanasana (A few hints for J-Man here.)


mandy eubanks said...

That was a great post! Thanks for making your response public.

Jeremiah Wallace said...

Thanks Christina. That clarifies several things for me. One, my thought was that if I got Pascimottanasana, all the other ones would pretty much just be there, aka, I would have the Level 1 syllabus under my belt. Two, well, there's lots of stuff. But anyways, thanks.

Lisa said...

So interesting...thank you for sharing!

Don Livingston said...

Excellent discussion. One thing struck me as odd: for opening shoulder loop you suggested going from shoulder stand to setu bandhasana. Is that a typo? Do you actually mean going from shoulder stand to setu bandha sarvangasana?

Christina Sell said...

Yes, that is it- part of the sarvangasana cycle BKS Iyengar outlines in Light on Yoga.From Shoulderstand you lower to setu bandhasana and then you hop both legs back up to shoudlerstand. Not a typo at all, it is great fun!

However, for the Ashtanga Vinyasa readers, What BKS calls setu bandhasana is not waht Patabhi Jois calls setu bandhasana... that would be a lot harder.

Dale said...

What a brilliant post! I may have to start paying a fee for this blog, because when I'm looking for inspiration on a principle or pose, I come here & use the Search function. GroovyCool !!

I'll just bet Iyengar says that once you can do Mandalasana, the other advanced back bends will be easier [rotfl]. That's a bit like saying that once you can do pincha, your headstand 1 gets easier :-).

A couple things occurred to me while reading the question. First was that I would offer to build the class toward the pose in 6 months, as opposed to 6 weeks. I worked on opening my heart for about 2 years before I could do EPRK without having to recover from it afterward. Those changes to the ribcage are pretty dramatic :-).

Another thing that I have noticed is that classes that are focused on achieving a single pose, tend to produce overwork injuries, compared to classes that work on a variety of challenges or even one area (backbending in general, for example).

So my thought is to take a certain amount of time in your weekly(?) class to work toward EPRK, and then spend the rest of the class on other things. That way the class gets to work toward the pose without overworking that area of the body.

I like Christina's strategy, because it suggests skill work, and strengthening work, and opening work, using a variety of different poses. This allows the use of many different poses to work toward each aspect - skill, strength, and opening.