I got this question in my email the other day and I thought I might answer it here since answering it for one person one time is great but answering it for many people one time is even better!
I have a question for you about kidney loop. I have been spending two weeks on each loop, and this is my second time going through the loops. I am having a very hard time getting the kidney loop to my students. Should I approach it from the phrase "do not let the ribs splay out"? I just feel like this does not engage the rest of the loop, the action that the loop brings the ribs in and toward the back body supporting a straight spine. The students seem to get confused when we are in poses like trikonasana, urdhva dhanurasana, reverse vira II. Let me know what you think! Thanks!
Whenever I am going to teach a particular loop I start by asking myself a few questions-
1. What feeling quality does this loop yield?
This questions gives me leverage into the Heart-based theme. Kidney loop is often associated with softening into the back body, humility, reverarance, remembrance of support and trust. This is certainly true for the muscular, integrated types. However, the organic types often feel kidney loop as strengthening, unifying, and integrative. Here is something cool. so you can use something like- "When we soften and trust the support behind us, we feel stronger and more integrated. " You can use both, you can use either, but make sure you set it up clearly and give reasons. Since this is the second time through, maybe approach it from the opposite angle than you used last time.
2. In what poses or parts of poses does this loop come easily?
Students are very likely to get confused by kidney loop in reversed vira 2 since it is not a place where that loop comes naturally due to the shape of the pose. Its a great pose to apply it in once the action and the energy is accessed, however.
So there are some poses that introduce the loops well and there are some poses where the loop is more obscure. We need the loop in both situations, but one is more for teaching and one is more for application once the learning has happened.
Poses where kidney loop is accessed easily-
cat/cow- the cat shape gets a beginning kidney looper in the neighborhood of the pose quite well and the cow gives contrast and offers students the opportunity to make a distinction between ribs flaring out and the sag in the middle back and the fullness of moving deliberately into the back body.
skier's pose- feet hip width apart, hands on thighs- apply cat/cow actions here and it is a wonderful place to explore and teach
utkatasana- the kidney loop doesn't happen naturally here, quite the opposite. But because the back gets such a natural sag here, its a great place to utilize contrast and larger action to great effect.
parsvakonasana, forearm on front thigh- with the forearm on the front thigh, the students are not in a big wqeight bearing situation and so you can keep their attention and interest for longer while they learn then you can expect in the full pose. this is also true if you were teaching IS/OS that day in this pose. This is an excellent teaching pose which is why it gets used a lot.
Learn this verbal cue to teach kidney loop- "place your top hand on your hip. inhale, make your legs strong, draw in until your chest lifts, exhale, bow your head to your heart, move your side ribs back like you did in cat pose...." then make the teaching link- "this is kidney loop," " this movement into your back body is kidney loop,"" this humble bow is how we access kidney loop,"etc. All that stuff will fill it in but the students have to execute the actions of literally moving back, not just thinking about humility, etc. Getting them to bow their heads to their hears will help them access their kidney loop more effectively. Cue this again and again as though all of you have ADD. If you do not see the action happening, they are not feeling it, so watch them!
malasana is also a great place to teach kidney loop. look how the shape of the back is already in kidney loop. I tell people, "find the poses where you get the alignment principle for free".
3. In what poses does the application of this loop yield a pay off? A payoff can be on many different levels- an increased awareness is payoff for sure. But here I mostly think of "pay off " in terms of greater access into the pose and/or the alleviation of chronic pain.
So, kidney loop is a pay off in a level 1 class in a pose like ardha chandrasana. it will help students who have struggled to balance quite considerably.
kidney loop yields great pay off in arm balances like eka hasta bhujasana, bakasana and eka pada galvasana and will help students get lift off with greater ease.
activate kidney loop in cobra and great things happen. Also in vira 1, anjaneyasana and urdhva danurasana.
Kidney loop will help someone in pinca mayurasana and handstand a lot. So often the pay off postures are not the poses where you get it for free but the poses where its very difficult to access and the poses where THE LACK OF THE LOOP is the common misalignment.
Pay off poses need to be considered relative to the level of the group, which is the next question I ask myself.
4. What level group I am teaching? For instance- kidney loop makes a huge difference in handstand. But in order for handstand to be a good place to teach kidney loop, the students have to be able to actually do handstand. (in general. there are exceptions but for the average teacher I think the nuts and bolts of a posture should be in place before adding a clear lesson of the loops or you end up having to teach "how to do a handstand" and then "how to do kidney loop" and then "how to do kidney loop in a handstand" and this is how demonstrations and partner work run amuck in classes, slow down the pace, bore the students and shrink your class size. just sayin.)
So from there I write a sequence that begins with the poses where the actions come easily and progresses along through the postures, repeating the actions in increasing more challenging postures until the pay off poses come. Again, pay off poses must be chosen relative to the level of the group. if a group can not push up to urdhva danurasana yet, kidney loop is irrelevant. They need other lessons and other preparatory work.
Centering- i would give a few cues here about softening and moving into the back body. I would also make sure i set up the idea that the back body corresponds to the Universal aspect of experience, etc.
child's pose- I would tell them to breath into their back here
cat/cow- movement with breath with some info about cat pose that is the same as kidney loop- "move your side ribs back, inflate your middle back and with trust move into your back body until you feel the strength of that support."
* I would reference "halloween cat back" for the first half of class over and above kidney loop.
Simple Surya Namaksar variations, depending on group level
skier's pose - cat/cow contrast work
utkatasana- teach the pose once, then demo how to apply "halloween cat back" to it.
utkatasana- verbally cue the application of kidney loop. VERY IMPORTANT- if they do it well, move on. if their backs did not change shape, demo again, give a pep talk and ask them to repeat. they are learning the actions here and if they are not doing them now, they will no be able to do them in harder shapes.
vira one with heel up- , link to utkatasana."place your hands on your front thigh. bow your head to your heart. Like you did in Halloween cat, slide your side ribs back and humbly move into the strength of Universal Support."
Anjaneyasana- same cues
parsvakonasana, forearm to thigh- use the cue I gave you above-"place your top hand on your hip. inhale, make your legs strong, draw in until your chest lifts, exhale, bow your head to your heart, move your side ribs back like you did in cat pose...."
parsvakonasana- have them do full pose. then demo the application of the loop. Then have them do it in a harder shape now, carry the actions through in your cues.
trikonasana- carry the actions though here.
ardha chandrasana (let's say this is your peak pose today)- demo getting into and out of the pose. have them do it.
then demo how to apply kidney loop to ardha chandrasana.
then talk them through it. - "place your top arm on your hip. bring your top leg into the front plane slightly. bow your head to your heart with humility and strengthen your resolve to connect with the support of grace. move your ribs back, breathe into your back. keeping that strong connection, lift your chin out of your chest, take your shoulder onto your back, line your back leg up with your body and stretch your arm up to the sky."
if they do it, move on. if they can not or do not do it, figure out why and help them solve that problem. it may be they need something remedial like placing the back foot on the wall to help with balance. Anyway, do a demo, give a pep talk, have them try again. Like that.
Do these next poses with less technical info and more feeling words and get them settled into their hearts. tey will ahve concentrated a lot, thought a lot and tried really hard.
knees to chest
Obviously, adjust the sequence accordingly for the level and capacity of the group. if you were going to take it to back bends, just keep weaving the actions so that when they get to urdhva danuarasana their bodies are prepared for the pose- spine is stretches, quads open, hips open shoulders and chest prepared, upper back ready- but they have super strong kinesthetic understanding of how to access the kidney loop. then you get them to urdhva. then you demo how to apply it. then you talk the through it.
Hope this helps. Let me know how it goes.
And if any of you out there like this sort of work, come join me for the training I am giving in Tucson in August!
August 16-18, 2011
Yoga Oasis; Tucson, AZ
Contact- Rachel King to sign up firstname.lastname@example.org