Flexibility

The gap between the plan and the performance

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Sometimes there is a gap between the plan and what happens on the mat. A plan can only be a guide. It’s not written in stone. My plan today was to do 3 sets with 5 repetitions of urdhva dhanurasana. In addition I wanted to hold urdhva dhanurasana at least once for 1 minute. This was simply not what my body could do today. The idea to work on strength is surely good. It’s also good to hold the body longer in order to give the body time to stretch into the pose. The insight is that I have to create a training that picks me up where I’m now and not where I want to be . To create tiny steps are a good strategy. Tomorrow I plan to do 3 sets with 2 repetitions of urdhva dhanurasana. This is much less. I also want to hold this pose for 1 minute.

In many yoga classes I saw yogis before urdhva dhanurasana lying on the back, waiting. To lift up into urdhva dhanurasana seemed so heavy. I observed myself doing the same. I lied there, I knew what I wanted to do, but it seemed undoable. I think I know now why this was so. To lift up into urdhva dhanurasana required strength. I was not strong enough and at the end of a practice my willpower was exhausted, too. This is why I want to focus also on strength these days.

Strength: To get with an inhale into urdhva dhanurasana and to get out with the exhaling and to repeat this several times is more or less a strength training. The arms and legs are challenged.

Flexibility: Staying in urdhva dhanurasana for a longer time (1 minute or 2 minutes) and walking the arms to the feet or the other way round is a stretching exercise.

Both is needed. Urdhva dhanurasana requires strength and flexibility. One can work on both skills separately as described above.

Also the right technique plays an important role. The hips shall support the movement. A deep inhaling helps enormously to get into the pose. To create length in the body is also very important.

The wall is my favorite prop when I work on urdhva dhanurasana. It gives me orientation when I lift myself up from the floor. The upper body moves towards the wall. I also drop back against the wall from a standing position. One day I’ll surely drop back again in the middle of the room. It’s not the time yet for this dynamic movement.

Progress can be felt.

The final goal is that it’s relaxing and joyful to perform this back bending asana. I’ve been there.

The spine

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The spine has 24 vertebras. They are connected via joints. This is why we can move our body in different directions. The perfect construction of the spine allows this flexibility.

  1. We can do inversions. When the head is below the heart we have an inversion pose. It feels as if one can create room.

  2. We can bend backwards.

  3. The spine allows to move the upper body sidewards.

  4. Twists are possible.

  5. We can also round the body and bow forward.

This is a lot. Most people don’t move the body in these different directions, even though the body allows to do it. One day the spine is stiff and not so many movements are possible anymore. Having limitations often comes with age, when people didn’t work on staying flexible. Yet this needn’t be the case. We can keep the spine flexible.

I always aim for a balanced practice. I don’t think that primary series of Ashtanga yoga is a balanced practice. 80% of the asanas are forward bending asanas. They aim at making the hip joint more flexible, but mainly in one direction: forward. The spine remains in it’s natural state. I have the feeling that all these forward bending asanas shall prepare the body for the leg behind head poses. I like these advanced asanas, but are they really important? I don’t think so. It’s more important to move the spine in different directions.

I often add a side stretch these days. I hold the twists longer than 5 breaths. I alter primary with second series.

Today I had to motivate myself to start practicing. As soon as I had done the first sun salutations I was concentrated and enjoyed the practice. The three sun salutations B were easier already than yesterday. Nevertheless my heart rate went up and I sweated a lot. After 90 minutes I was exhausted.

I did urdhva dhanurasana. After all these forward bending asanas it was a weak pose. It makes more sense to work on back bending asanas when I practice second series.

Getting stronger, becoming more flexible again is a journey that requires patience. There is no shortcut. It takes time.