Sri K Pattabhi Jois said, "Yoga is 99 percent practice, one percent theory." This blog is a resource to explore the one percent theory and to inspire you on the mat.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Asana Kitchen: Dropping Back (PT 3)

Namaste! I'm pleased to offer Part 3 of The Asana Kitchen's drop back series. I encourage you to get out your mat, warm up your back and practice along with the video and instructions. This time I've also included written notes to supplement the video!
After this I'll have one more post before the New Year. Thank you for following my blog by watching my videos and reading my writings. I'm excited for another year of sharing Yoga with you all. If you have benefited from my blogs I'd appreciate you sharing them with your Yoga friends through any of the social media channels. I'm available as a resource to you and your Yoga community. I would love the opportunity to work with you in person. To invite me to teach at your studio, please send me your contact information and we'll make it happen! Be sure to check back for my last post of the year because I'm going out with bang...! Hari Om!! Jai Ma! Enjoy! David

Review of Alignment Principles for dropping back and coming up:

The arms vertically, actively reach up palms facing each other
Lift the upper spine upwards and curve it far forward into the body.
Move the sacrum forward into the body causing the hips to move forward. Resist the forward movement of the hips by grounding the thighbones, make the thighs powerfully firm and stabilize the legs.
As you start to go back reach up, out and over.
Continue to lift the chest and curve the upper spine up and forward into the body. Keep the legs straight and firm as long as you are able. The stronger and more flexible you are the less you'll ever have to bend your knees when you drop back.
As you drop back, touch down, stabilize the arms, land with as much control as possible, and then let the body sway slightly further in the direction it was already going. Use momentum to rock forward as you prepare the legs to support the weight of the spine. Keep the head back, keep your eyes fixed on a spot between the hands.
Lead with your chest, try to lift and curve the spine creating the exact same action that helped you drop back. Project your spine and hips forward until you feel your legs underneath you supporting your curving spine and head. Keep your head back until the very end finally bringing the head up when you are standing upright.

*Use the wall or other props as is necessary to create a healthy, sustainable step by step progression for learning to utilize the alignment principles.
*Don't go for 'too much too soon'. The true enjoyment and benefit comes from flowing with the dynamic, rhythmic play safely within the limits of your body. Not in reaching an end goal. Use your alignment knowledge to know where your particular edge is.
*Be patient allow several months or however long it takes for the proper knowledge and body intelligence to come to you in order to master this life affirming, dynamic move.

***Note about the pelvis as you set up to drop back: rotate the pelvis in a slight backward tilt (like a gentle tuck, but not a tuck that flexes the lumbar spine)
achieve the feeling of this backward rotation by imagining the pelvis as the paddle wheel of a mississippi steamboat. (the axle passes through the hip joints). Imagine the paddle wheel turns in a counter clockwise direction, moves up and over from front to back.
*****Also note lengthening the coccyx means cultivating a sense that your vestigial tail is actually a real tail with length and weight. Imagine that you have a tail like a monkey or a great cat, a tail that has weight and dangles down behind or between your legs. Let this feeling of having a tail ' drag' the back of the pelvis downwards towards the earth. This action helps awaken uddhyana and mula bandha's.

Additional Notes

Focus on the drop back first as a way of getting started. Dropping back is generally easier than coming up.

First get ready action, for the significant play of forces you are about to set in motion. Center your self as though you are about to surf, to catch and ride an ocean wave, it's THAT kind of readiness--poised ready to respond, to execute, and balance.

Go through your set up progression (see above) to ensure maximum opening of the chest and thus maximum participation of the upper spine and in order to optimize the use of your legs.

Clearly center yourself over your foundation even as your center of gravity shifts forward as you go back.

As you reach up and over make sure you take the head back and look for a spot on the wall, pad or ground, a spot between the hands that will help visually orient you to prepare you for landing.

There should be a tiny bit of give in your landing for softness but keep the arms straight.
If you let the elbows bend and give way to easily you'll increase the chances of bonking your head upon landing.

Once you have the feeling for dropping back, think about coming back up. Initially a fair amount of rhythm and momentum can provide you with the extra surge you need to come up.

In order to use momentum effectively you have to attempt to come back up utilizing the motion that was generated when you dropped back. When you drop back your body's weight will be going down and back towards the wall (even though you have lifted your spine up and forward in opposition to this) In order to come back up, you want to let the body continue in the direction it was already going for a little longer. Keep the arms straight and let the body move in the opposite direction than you want to go to come back up. This step is key to creating momentum to push off and come up. You drop back, touch down, let the body sway slightly further in the direction it was already going then prepare the legs to support the weight of the spine. Keep the head back, keep your eyes fixed on your spot between the hands.

Lead with your chest, try to lift and curve the spine creating the exact same action that helped you drop back. Project your spine and hips forward until you feel your legs underneath you supporting your curving spine and head. Keep your head back until the very end finally bringing the head up when you are standing upright.

1) use the wall:
A) as an effective, safe way to begin.
B) as a way to progress step by step while staying in control of some of the important alignment principles.
C) to help you work with your fear of dropping back.
D) to feel of the essential role of rhythm in learning to drop back and come up.
2) Use firm foam pads
(as shown in part's 2 and 3 of the series. the pad dimensions: 2" high 12" wide 24" long)
A) when you can drop back with wall and are able to get most of the way to the floor.
B) when you've become comfortable enough using the wall to skillfully and rhythmically drop back and come up with clear breathing
C) when you want to focus more on learning to come up.
D) when you can drop back and come up from the floor but want to refine specific points and work with aligning the legs or get the feeling of keeping the heels more grounded.
E) when you want to use less momentum to come up.
F) when you want to soften your drop back landing.


*Contemplate the role of the earth and the importance of feeling grounded when working on drop backs
*Find the earth through the legs and then trust the earth! Trust the legs!
*consciously lower your center of gravity so that you feel physically closer to the earth.
*work with imagery to enhance the stability of the legs in your posture. Imagine that the feet and legs have thrust up through the earth similiar an outcropping, an island that has thrust up from the ocean bottom.
*learn to lift and curve the spine forward into the torso in order to use the support of the legs to center your self and control your speed dropping back and coming up.
*use momentum and rhythm to invite the entire body to participate dynamically in dropping back and coming up.
*co-ordinate the rhythm of the breath with sweeping rhythm of the skeleton
* feel an ascending, uninterrupted curve through the length of the spine.

*gaze over and down at a spot on the ground between your hands leading with the eyes on the way down and allowing the eyes to follow on the way up.
*proceed confidently, knowing that you will be able to execute the move. Hesitation causes you to interrupt the rhythm and gives you the message to close the chest and not to rely on the foundation of the posture.

To purchase pads go to the Friendly Foam shop
You need 24"L x 24"W x 2"H If you mention you need a yoga prop, with those dimensions, and say you want the firmest kind of foam they will understand.


  1. Thank you for this. I am putting a bug into the ear of one of my studio owner friends to invite you. I love the blog and the refinements.


  2. Namaste David, that was wonderful, thanks for taking the time to do this, so useful!

  3. Tomorrow, I will be an outcropping, connected to the earth for millenia! At least I hope to be that :) Thanks for the great detail, David.

  4. David,
    What are your thoughts on practicing the beginning of 2nd series, before being able to come up from drop backs? For me, a stiffer person, I find my back bends much better, and focused in the upper back after practicing through ustrasana, than I do when I stop at setu bandhasana. A lot of the points you highlight in these segments I find I can focus on in coming up from laghu, but realistically I am still a year or two away from coming up from dropbacks.


  5. David, thank you so much for posting the 'drop back trilogy'. It's been great fun playing with the principles that you've put out here.

    As a follow on from the block exercise, to help the feet stay aligned, I hit on a neat little prop this morning. I rolled up two tissues and put them under the rug, position behind the knuckle of each big toe, at the junction with the 2nd toe (for some reason my feet are really tactile here). I found I was able to focus on keeping the feet there, and the Charlie Chaplin days are now not far away from being history. Just figured I'd share the idea for anyone else that wants to give it a go.

  6. Good post but I was wondering if you could write a litte more on this subject? I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit further. Appreciate it! capri workout pants


David welcomes comments on his posts, however, due to time constraints he is not able to respond to every comment.