Reflections

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This urdhva dhanursana project is 2 weeks young.

  1. Last week I practiced Ashtanga yoga every day and every day I also practiced urdhva dhanurasana. Without practicing nothing happens. I appreciate that I’ve been so disciplined.

  2. Not every progress is visible. It’s also progress when it feels better when doing this back bending asana.

  3. It’s better to exercise correctly than to do too many extra drills. I realize that it makes sense to repeat a stretching exercise like the splits three times. Each time I can hold the pose a bit longer without wanting to get out of the position as fast as possible. This progression makes this exercise safer. With each attempt the body allows to go deeper into the pose. Repetitions and holding an asana at least 1 minute speed up progress.

I need a day off. Tomorrow is Saturday and I won’t practice.

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Drills versus performance

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I’m convinced that some asanas of the Ashtanga yoga series are very hard to learn (if at all) if one doesn’t add drills or additional exercises. An asana like karandavasana cannot be learned by only repeating it three times every day or every second day. What shall one repeat? To fold the legs into lotus pose while in pincha mayurasana is very difficult. One must find a method to learn it.

Additional stretching and strength training may speed up the learning. Perhaps these drills make possible what otherwise wouldn’t be possible.

You’ll be able to do this asana in your next life never convinced me.

Sometimes I do so many additional exercises that I forget the reason why I started doing them.

At the end of my drills I’ll add the asanas as it’s supposed to be. Regarding urdhva dhanurasana it is to lift myself up three times and to hold this pose for 5 breaths. I can try to drop back, but I’m not yet there. To bow backwards from a standing position might make sense. The body gets used again to this backwards movement also when it’s just the start of it.

Drills and performance belong together.

This reminds me of the story of a salsa dancer. She said that people think she and her partner danced all day. But they worked on steps, on arm positions, on expression. They rarely started and finished the entire choreography.

Some asanas are so demanding that one has to exercise the different skills separately: Strength, flexibility, technique.

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Paschimottanasana, the counter asana for urdhva dhanurasana

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Usually we move in and out of an asana, which is more or less a dynamic movement, the vinyasa. There is the asana itself. After each asana it’s recommended to practice a counter asana.

The series of Ashtanga yoga have this sturcture.

A balanced yoga class choreography is built the same way.

After a twist to the right side follows a twist to the left side. After a back bending asana follows a slight forward bending asana and the other way round. When doing inversions, it’s good to practice child’s pose afterwards.

In Ashtanga yoga after urdhva dhanurasana comes pashimottanasana, this deep forward bending asana. At once.

For me it always hurt at the lower back when I had to get so quickly into that asana. To get straight from a deep back bending asana to a deep forward bending asana was painful in an unhealthy way. Perhaps I’ve prepared my socrialiac joint issues with this aggressive counter pose.

Lately I went to Sivananda yoga classes. They also practice urdhva dhanurasana in every yoga class. After urdhva dhanurasana one lies on the back with bent legs, so that the back can relax. It’s a soft counter pose. Usually my body is very soon ready for deeper forward bending asanas, yet to go straight and with one breath into that deep forward folding pose felt never good.

When I go straight from urdhva dhanursana to paschimottanasana I do it very very slowly these days. I take all the time that is needed so that it feels good. First I sit with straight legs on the floor. After a while I move the upper body forward.

These days I listen much more to my body. I take my time, always. Nothing worse than back injuries. At home I can adjust my practice.

The pictures show counter asanas that I love to practice after urdhva dhanurasana. They serve the same purpose than paschimottanasana that is to balance the body, but they are much softer. Why not adding several counter asanas before paschimottanasana? Sometimes I do this. It’s relaxing for the back.

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Wheel every Wednesday

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This blog becomes a structure: Every Wednesdays I publish a picture of urdhva dhanurasna, just to check if something has moved. I can use this picture also for the #wheeleverywednesday community on Instagram. It’s such a nice group of people who practice this pose probably every day like me. On Wednesday they show their wheels under the above mentioned hashtag. It’s motivating to be part of this fun.

The above picture of urdhva dhanurasana I took on Tuesday, that is yesterday after many other back bending asanas. I think that legs and feet are a tiny bit closer together as usual. The shin bones are no more parallel to the wall. My arms didn’t stretch further , the limit was reached at the upper body. That’s why this wheel is a bit unbalanced.

I’m glad, I did it. I wheeled again.

On Monday I practiced primary. At the end I exercised urdhva dhanurasana as well. Monday was a day I felt very stiff in addition. It was a miracle that I could lift myself up. Feet and hands are far away from each other. I couldn’t bring them closer. This pose is volatile. I need a lot of warm-up exercises when I want to get deep into this pose.

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Nutruition of a yogini

When I prepared myself for the college diploma decades ago I probably bought my first self-help book. Slowly I became nervous and more nervous. So I decided to buy a book on how to prepare for tests. When I held the book in my hands my chin dropped. Instead of reading about learning tips and how to remember contents faster I read about sleeping and eating first. In the second half of the book the authors wrote about how to approach texts and other topics.

Whatever we do, it’s easier when we’re rested and when we feel fresh.

Nutrition plays a major part when exercising and also when learning anything. Sportive people need to stay slim, but they also need food that helps them to build muscles i.e.. Our tissues are made of protein.

If we eat too much or heavy food we feel heavy and lazy.

Yogins are vegan these days.

One must learn to cook. It’s cool to eat out in restaurants. Yet one shouldn’t forget that restaurants want to make profit at the first place. They don’t care so much about the health of their customers. It’s OK. Yet knowing this I also know that I have to cook. Eating out Is for special days, but not for every day.

Eating well, that is eating my own meals, will support my urdhva dhanurasana project.

(Perhaps I’ll also take some Magnesium pills. :) )

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Exercise plateau

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I got interested in how to learn asanas effectively. The traditional method is last century. One can do better than breathing 5 times when exercising an asana and believing in miracles.

Yesterday I stood in front of my book shelf and found a book on Kripalu Yoga by Richard Faulds. I opened it and found the following paragraph on page 318:

No matter how good the exercise routine, you can’t repeat it day after day and continue to get the same results. Your body adapts to the demands made upon it. A well-worn routine ceases to be a healthy challenge and loses its ability to stimulate you to higher levels of fitness. Progress levels off in a phenomenon called exercise plateau. As a once-cherished routine goes stale, it becomes hard to keep your mind focused and engaged. When boredom sets in, your love affair with yoga can start to feel like a rut. This is shy experts recommend that you alter an exercise regimen every six weeks, the approximate time it takes the body to adapt to a new routine. The key to skillfully working with exercise plateau is simple: mix it up! Learn new postures that work different parts of the body. Hold the postures you already know a little longer to ramp up your intensity. Vary the order and manner in which you do things to open doorways into greater spontaneity and self-expression.

My home practice allows to practice like this. I hold asanas longer, I add asanas, sometimes easier ones, sometimes more challenging ones. Sometimes I omit asanas, because I need more time for those asanas that are my focus.

One cannot expect to get better every day a tiny bit, also not if one practices every day. A practice is characterized by ups and downs. Sometimes one flows through a series, the next day it’s difficult. It makes no sense to find reasons for this. Observing it and moving on is the best approach. Who knows what will happen tomorrow? Perhaps one leaps ahead, perhaps one experiences a plateau, perhaps one has to schlepp oneself to the mat and just sitting there is all what is possible.

Nothing is forever.

Exercise tableaus come and go. There are ideas to get through them more quickly. Nevertheless patience is needed.

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The goal

I practice Ashtanga yoga. After the middle part of the series comes urdhva dhanurasana. It has 2 parts:

  1. One comes to a lying position. From there one gets into urdhva dhanurasana three times. The asana is held for 5 breaths. At the end one shall come up to a standing position.

  2. Then comes the dynamic phase. One shall drop back into the position and one shall come up again to a standing position. This dynamic movement is repeated five times.

Tis is the level that is practiced after primary. This is already very demanding.

I lost the courage to drop back. I never came up on my own, even though several yoga teacher had told me that this had been possible already.

There is a lot of work to do. I’m looking forward to working on urdhva dhanurasana.

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Reflections

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Today is Saturday, it’s a rest day. To rest is important, too. The body needs time to recover from an intensive yoga week.

This urdhva dhanurasana project is already one week old. It shall last one year. I want to find out what is possible within that time frame.

One year I want to be obsessed by urdhva dhanurasana.

Reflections on last week:

  1. I practiced urdhva dhanurasana every day.

  2. My chin touched the wall. It tells me that I could get deeper into ud.

  3. I could lift the leg and arm when in urdhva dhanurasana - one after the other of course.

These were the main accomplishments.

It was not always easy to exercise this back bending asana. I feel resistance to practice it. It will become easier again. One day it will feel good again.

Next week I’ll focus on holding urdhva dhanurasana up to one minute and not only 5 breaths. Five breaths is not long enough to stretch the body.

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First success

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This was a surprise this morning. I usually practice urdhva dhanurasana with my hands close to a wall. A goal was/is to bring the chin or chest to the wall. Today my chin touched the wall. This means that I could go deeper into this asana.

I practice daily urdhva dhanurasana. Resistance can be felt every day. It’s hard to do this pose. To lift myself up requires energy and will power.

I’m working on a plan that is doable and not too ambitious, yet challenging enough.

The first exercises are:

  1. Split pose

  2. Lying over my wheel, bringing the elbows to the floor in order to stretch the upper body.

  3. Doing urdhva dhanurasana with blocks under the hands and close to a wall

  4. Doing urdhva dhanurasana without blocks but holding it up to 1 minute or longer.

  5. Getting into the pose and out of the pose 5 times / 3 sets. This is a start.

  6. Dropping against the wall from standing position. Five times could be a good start here, too.

  7. Counter pose

On Friday urdhva dhanurasana comes after all these forward bending asanas.

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What to do if no back bending at all seems possible?

Yesterday I practiced primary Ashtanga yoga series with all these forward bending asanas. At the end comes urdhva dhanurasana. I was neither in the mood, nor did I feel capable to bend backwards. I remembered that in Ashtanga yoga classes I always HAD TO do urdhva dhanurasana. Often it was very difficult, but doable.

I started this extra blog a week ago. I dedicate it to only one pose: urdhva dhanurasana. It’s an experiment how far I will come. It’s a project and will last one year only. This new project motivated me a lot to do anything that I could call back bending.

My idea was to do the most easiest variation of a back bending asana that I know (pic 1). It would count as a back bending asana and my back bending work for today would be done. As soon as I had started I felt that more was possible. I added another rather easy back bending variation, a passive stretch on my wheel (pic 2). And look how I ended (pic 3).

I refreshed my insight: I tiny back bending asana is always possible, every day.

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Stretching the upper body

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This back bending variation is a nice stretch for the upper body. This variation is doable, but also challenging. To put the flat hands on the floor could be the next step. I could also lift the legs one after the other.

This evening I attended another yoga class. Urdhva dhanurasan was part of the series that we practiced. Even variations were exercised. We were asked to lift the legs and also the arms - one after the other.

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This is my wheel for #wheeleverywednesday on Instagram. It looks the same like 4 weeks ago.

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Stretching the hip flexor

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This picture was taken by a friend in 2009. It’s one of my first pictures of myself doing yoga. It was too cold in this room. In addition I couldn’t warm up. Nevertheless an urdhva dhanurasana was possible. I wanted to check if my body was ready to drop back. This picture helped me to learn the next tiny steps.

The legs are almost in line with the body. The hip flexors are not really bendy. Of course. My practice was primary, primary, primary, forward bending, forward bending, forward bending……….I’m convinced that one should start with second Ashtanga series much earlier than it ist the rule today.

By now I work on stretching the hip flexors. I integrate the splits into my daily practice. I usually exercise the splits before utthita hasta padangusthasana. This pose and the following are standing splits. They are also balancing asanas. Not much stretching happens, my body needs resistance in order to stretch.

I also exercise the splits before ustrasana.

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It’s very important to be careful and attentive. It’s much better to exercise this asana on a daily basis than to force the body into the split. Quickly one gets injured.

The legs are engaged and pull to the center. I twist the body slightly to stretch the hip flexor of the left leg a tiny bit more. The blocks help to keep the body upright. In order to stretch the body effectively it’s necessary to hold the body at least 1 minute. Five breaths are not enough. The body must feel safe, then it’s possible to get deeper into a pose. When I started with the splits I sat on three blocks. I also couldn’t hold this asana for 1 minute. Progress comes slowly, but it comes.

This is one of my daily preparation for urdhva dhanurasana. If you’re a stiff person urdhva dhanurasana is a challenging asana.

There are a lot more asanas that stretch the hip flexors. One must find an exercise that one loves to do. Then it’s not boring.

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Urdhva dhanurasana - a fresh start

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This blog is more or less for me. It’s an experiment. What is possible is the question. Urdhva dhanurasana is one of the first back bending asanas of Ashtanga yoga. It’s exercised after all these forward bending asanas of primary. This alone is a challenge.

The goal is to drop back and to come up again from this asana.

The traditional method is to get into the pose 5 times and to hold it for 5 breaths. Usually a teacher adjusts when dropping back. This is psychological important. I was told that I could come up on my own, but in fact this never happened. Nevertheless I’m convinced that it’s possible for me to drop back again and to come up again on my own.

Lately I reflect a lot on methods how to learn asanas faster. I mean a decade for an asana is too long.

Possible topics:

  1. Developing flexibility

  2. Developing strength

  3. Technique

  4. Props

  5. Taking pictures of the pose

  6. Filming the vinyasa

  7. Nutruition

  8. Mental training

  9. Counter poses

  10. Variations

The above picture is taken yesterday. The first September is a good starting point for this back bending adventure.

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