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.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Asana Kitchen: Shoulderstand Series (Pts: 1-6)

The subject of this asana kitchen post comes from Patty in LA:

David, please help me with shoulderstand and explain why it's important.

This post on shoulderstand is a six part video series. I believe that shoulderstand is such an important posture that six videos are needed to give justice to the incredible asana. I invite you to dive into the series and take time with the videos really giving the pose the time that its benefits demand.

The first 3 video's include discussions on the following aspects of the posture: 1) A talk on the importance of the posture 2) The value of supporting the shoulders with a pad 3) How to use a pad

The last 3 videos are meant for you to study but will be more useful if you get out your mat and do the exercises. They include
4) How to create a sound a foundation 5) Ways of working in the posture 6) An intro to the posture using the wall (for beginners, review, and/or teachers). I've also included some written notes to supplement the video's.

Please let me know what you think of this post and I welcome you to email your asana questions to Enjoy! David

When you are standing upright the feet and legs are your base and connection to the earth. In shoulderstand your foundation, your source of grounded skeletal support is in the shoulder girdle, arm bones and muscles of the fingers, hands, forearms, upper arms, and shoulders. The arms and upper body (not including the neck and head) form a basket like support structure that can powerfully and effectively bear the weight of the body. The ability to utilize this foundation effectively depends upon the proper positioning of the spine in relation to the arm bones and shoulder girdle. The elbows need to be approximately parallel to each other and you must lift up the spine so that ideally neither the upper spine nor the neck touch the ground.
If the foundation is not set up skillfully and thus doesn't bear the weight of the body adequately, then neck problems could result. The elbows splaying out and the spine falling toward the ground are two signs of a faulty foundation. Using a firm pad under the shoulders can make it easier to establish a sound foundation that will ensure that the proper parts of the skeleton will receive the weight of the body. I've found that nearly every student can learn to work more safely, enjoy the posture more and expand the possibilities for exploration by supporting the shoulders in Shoulder Stand.

3 Keys To a Sound Foundation

1) Set up your posture with care and skill. Position the upper arms as close to parallel as possible. Do this by going into plow, straightening the arms behind you and interlocking the fingers. Tip to one side and roll the opposite shoulder under, then tip to the other side and repeat. Do this a few times on each side. See if you can feel the shoulders move under and the elbows move closer to each other.

2) Bend the elbows, push the "J" of the hand into your back. (The "J" is the "J" shape formed by the web space between the thumb and index fingers). Walk the hands down, push the "J" of the hand into your back, flatten out the hands and make the fingers face straight up. Spread the fingers to make the hand 'basket like' to catch and receive the weight of the body.

3) Come up into the posture. Orient your self according to the feeling of hands, forearms, upper arms, shoulders. The cervical spine and head are not meant to bear weight. Make sure you are aligned so that the proper parts of the body are bearing the weight.

6 Keys for How to Work in the Posture

1) Open the chest by lifting the spine. Make the spine disappear into the front of the body. Its a feeling like the torso gets blown forward and wants to leave the hands behind.

2) Periodically walk the hands down and push the "J" of the hand into your back, flatten out the hands and make the fingers face straight up. Spread the fingers to make the hand 'basket like' to catch and receive the weight of the body.

3)Align the body clearly along the vertical axis. At a gross level, bring the ankles, knees, hips, shoulders into vertical alignment. At a more subtle level achieve this vertical line by working with breath and activating opposing forces within the entire body: lift the arches of the feet as you suck the knee caps and quadriceps up. Anchor the thigh bones deep within the upper leg and move the sacrum into the body more. tune into the lift of the perineum as you exhale thoroughly.

**Keys 4 and 5: Activate a play of opposing forces by observing breath

4)Create Jalandhara bandha as you inhale by lowering your gaze and resting the brain so that you seal your mental prana within the torso. Feel the passive brain and downward cast eyes work together to energetically contain the expansion of the chest and thus keep your mind and senses absorbed within the torso above you. Also feel the flow of the in breath cause the spine to move upwards and deeper into the body. Use breath to blow the legs and feet upwards. Release the throat.

5) As you exhale feel the transfer of weight from above down into your foundation. As though the weight of the body falls vertically down along the central axis to be caught and firmly supported by the awaiting foundation. As you finish breathing out, activate the pelvic floor and Uddhyana Bandha to energetically 'catch' and re direct the flow of the out breath so prana remains within the torso. Contrast this downward feeling by lifting and curving the spine into the body more.

6) Watch the play of these opposing actions within the entire body and their relationship to the opposing patterns of inhaling and exhaling.