Monday, September 14, 2009

176/256 pt. 2 -- Posture Clinic, Back Strengthening

Back strengthening, for me at least, is probably the core of the series. And it's also the part which says "torture chamber" more than anything else. The things that really drain my stamina in class are: 1) Half Moon and Awkward. I find these two poses to be about as hard as the rest of the class combined. 2) Triangle, sometimes. And 3) Back strengthening series. And of the these, back strengthening is by far the most intense. Here goes:

Cobra -- Bikram says this is the hardest pose to teach. Rohit says its one where he has seen about the widest variation in approved final positions. In other words, two people can look very different from one another in this pose, and Bikram might still think that both are doing the posture correctly.

Rohit doesn't put much stock into the "looking up" that many teachers stress. For some, the body will naturally follow the eyes when they look up. For others, looking up simply puts a crick into the neck. I was surprised at this, because Rohit insists that we not look down when going into Balancing Stick. Looking down leads to arching the back. In the end, he says to try looking up and stay with it if its working for you, but don't make a fetish of it.

What to do with the hands? He suggested actually pulling back on the hands. This has the effect of pulling the body a bit further forward from the hips. The other interesting point was that the initial hand position depends upon your flexibility. The less flexible your lower back, then the further forward your hands might need to go, so you can get the 90 degree bend in the elbow at the end. A flexy back might can put the hands a bit further back.

Locust: One Leg -- The teachers have noticed that some people slack off a bit on the one foot part of Locust, because they are saving up energy for the two feet together. I wonder if there's anyone out there who has not done this? Bikram says that working hard in the one leg part of the pose makes the two legged version easier. It's not clear to me if he means that for a single class, or whether its a long term proposition. Either way, its good advice that I will try to heed. This is another one where I may have been cheating myself, because I'm too focused on the end product.

I also have gotten the priorities a bit wrong. The off side should be relaxed. The lifting leg needs to be as straight as possible, and stretching away from the hip. Then, you go for the height without moving your hip out of line or rotating in any way. And then, you should try to keep contact between raised hip and the arms. I thought that the contact was essential, and have been giving up quite a bit in the way of height. Letting the hip come up some makes it possible to get even deeper into the upper back muscles.

Locust: Both Legs -- The two main points here were: legs straight and don't throw yourself into the pose. When you bend your knees, you get the feeling that you are going higher into the pose. But you are doing it without any benefit. This is one where what you are feeling actually fools you some. As for throwing yourself into the pose, its never a good idea, but its something that happens quite often with Locust because the pose is so intense.

Someone asked about how you go about using your shoulders to push up even higher. As it turned out, I'm the only one in the clinic who gets up high enough that I actually use my shoulders (sometimes). So I got to demo, even though I wasn't sure if I still had the strength. I got up pretty well, and under control, and then I really tried to push with my shoulders. Someone said something like "Wow, he's up really high." But it didn't feel like it was anywhere near my best.

Anyway, I was trying too hard. I came out of the pose, and Rohit said, "That was really good, but..." And I joined in "You forgot to breathe." That just goes to show how easy it is to forget the most basic things. It was a nice demonstration of what not to do, however. Rohit says that he forgets to breath in Locust all the time.

Full Locust - Bikram says arms like airplane wings, and everyone puts there arms out to form a "T". Airplane wings are almost always pointing back a bit toward the stern. I had a question about this. A long time ago, Lenette said to start with your arms actually a bit forward of the T position, so the hands are pretty much parallel with the forehead. Then, as you go up, you sweep the arms back into the airplane wing position, which helps open the chest. This is another one where it seems like whatever works for you. And I'm going to have to toy with it both ways.

Next point: engage the thighs enough beforehand so the knees lift from the floor. This insures that your legs are straight. And finally, this is one of the big grimace poses. Try to smile. Try not to wrinkle the brow.

Floor Bow - We started with an illustration that Floor Bow is actually a relief. With our arms at our sides, chin on the floor, Rohit had us come into a variation of Full Locust and hold it for about 10-12 seconds. Then he said to bend the knees and reach back with the hands to grab the feet. Notice how, when you get the feet, you relax into Floor Bow, and it actually comes as a relief. Full Locust, of course, is much, much harder to hold.

The keys here were relaxing the shoulders, and kicking up instead of back. That means the kick is more at the hips than at the knees. I've always had a bit of a problem with all the "kicking" language in the series. It appears again and again, and it rarely means the same thing in any two places. And in some places, it simply does not seem at all like a "kick" at all to me. For example, in Standing Head to Knee, we are supposed to kick out the heel of our raised leg once the leg is straight, and we keep kicking out that heel. That imagery does nothing for me, and I have had to translate it into something that means something to me. The same has gone for floor bow. I've kicked lots of balls. And I've taken martial arts and done front kicks, side kicks, roundhouses, etc... For me, the kicking in Floor Bow has just never felt like a kick.

Rohit and Sherry went around the room and put their hands lightly on peoples feet and told them to push the hands away. That little physical assist worked wonders for me. I think I finally have some idea of how I'm supposed to get my feet up higher.

The other interesting part of Floor Bow is what happens if your feet are not up the same amount. Rohit says the problem is usually in the wrist. One is likely to curl in more than the other, and the curled in wrist will keep that foot down some. (I've noticed a different reason for it recently. With a weak knee, there's simply an imbalance in how much tension my legs can stand in this pose. My weak knee leg doesn't want to go up as far as the sound leg on some days.)

Next post will be the rest of the series, and then we will return to our regular scheduled programming.


Jennifer said...

Just wanted to say thanks for taking the time to type these notes out - I've got lots of new things to try out from reading them.

Also, I am pleased to hear someone else finds the kick instructions confusing. I had assumed I didn't understand for the opposite reason you do - I have never done any kicking sports, so I just thought I didn't know how to kick. In standing bow and floor bow especially, that instruction makes no sense to me and I play around with different interpretations. Glad to hear I am not the only one.

Duffy Pratt said...

Here's my thought on "kicking" in the bow poses. Many people have the problem that they pull their feet with their arms or with their shoulders. The shoulders aren't supposed to pull at all, and to try to get this across, the dialogue says to kick out. But it's not like any other kind of kicking I know about. What you are trying to do is make sure that the tension that runs through the "bow" part of the bow initiates in the leg. And as a result, these poses feel like they are opening the shoulders. That's my experience with them. And I've noticed that the better I do Standing Bow, the more deeply it gets in me into a shoulder stretch.

If I am right about the idea behind this instruction, I could add that it's not working very well. I can't tell you how many people I see who are prematurely forward in the pose, with no visible back arch, and with the back leg bent, it being pulled by arm and shoulder, and also with the hand pointed horizontal and totally out of line with the body. Lots of people do beautiful standing bows, but for the most part, the people who don't do them are way, way off in their understanding of what the pose calls for. (I think I don't fall into either category -- mine is neither beautiful, nor totally wrong).

Jennifer said...

I appreciate the insight. :) My floor bow is definitely my worst posture, though I heard something in the dialogue (was it always there? or phrased differently one day?) last week that has made it make more sense for me. Usually I am trying to kick, but I can feel my shoulders and upper back not letting go. I know I need to relax them, but I can never figure out how to actually do that - and it restrains my kick. One of my teachers said last week to relax the shoulders and to let the chest open - that did it for me. When I think about my chest opening/expanding, my shoulders relax instantly, and then I can "kick" more - without the restraint. Now I can actually work on the kick bc I don't have the shoulders putting the rest of the posture on pause for me.

I think my standing bow is somewhere in the middle, too - I think my form is fairly respectable, after many many many months of learning slight adjustments, but I can't hold it. I fall out constantly, usually due to my standing leg - I realize it is unlocked, then lock it, and I lose my balance and fall over. Maybe I should try thinking about my kicking leg more and my standing leg less!