November 11, 2013
I have a dreamy memory of sitting in Maty Ezraty’s Mysore Ashtanga room watching 3rd- and 4th-series yogis. Technically I was practicing the 1st (Primary) series, but was constantly distracted by the beauty around me. One yogi in particular had the most amazing practice I had ever seen. She did a sequence where she piked up into a Handstand, landed gracefully into a full Backbend and then like a bouncy feather, kicked back up into the Handstand and landed in Down Dog. The sequence continued on as she sprung back and forth from Dog to Backbend without a care in the world. It was awesome. I later found out this sequence was called Chakrasana, or Wheel (not to be confused withUrdvha Dhanurasana) or Backward Somersault. The “wheel” in Ashtanga Yoga refers to this flipping action (it also applies to the exit from Plow Pose). I never in my wildest dreams imagined I could follow in that yogini’s footsteps, but somehow I did. I possess the ability to flip back and forth, also known as “tick-tocks,” but I have yet to master the feather-like grace that she executed. One of the most useful tools on this journey is the breakdown from today’s blog. It will prepare you for the larger flip but will also make you empowered and, honestly, quite happy! It’s like that moment when you take the training wheels off your bike; it’s total terror until you realize, “I can do this!”
NOTE: This is a big-fear transition for most people so I highly recommend having a teacher and/or spotter with you on your first attempts. Don’t expect to flip over on your first try. The biggest hurdle is being confident with walking up the wall and making your legs and arms straight. As you begin this process, have someone stand to the side of you with their hand supporting your lower back. This is important in case your body decides to freak out and your arms buckle. The person can support you if you crumble like a cookie. Keep the supported hand there in step three and you can even give the lower back a gentle push as they kick over to help guide them in the right direction. Please take this note seriously! Don’t get excited and try to do it by yourself—use the buddy system!!!
Begin by setting your mat up with the narrow end against the wall. Lie on you back with your knees bent and toes touching the baseboard. Reverse your palms shoulder-width behind you, setting up for your Upward-Facing Bow Pose. Lift your hips up off of the ground and press onto the crown of your head. Hug your elbows in over your wrists while keeping your shoulder heads in their sockets. Curl your upper chest and press up toward straight arms. Note: If you can’t get your arm straight, I suggest using a yoga strap. Make a lasso measuring from shoulder head to shoulder head and place this strap around your arms directly above the elbows. This will prevent you from splaying and give you more support/strength and often flexibility. It’s a bit claustrophobic at first, but that will pass.
Once you’re in your full Upward-Facing Bow Pose, take a breath. Make a commitment to your shoulders; these are your stabilizers in the transition. Hugging your upper outer arms in will activate the serratus anterior muscles. Press evenly through all 10 knuckles and relax your neck. Lift your dominate leg up off of the ground and place the sole of your foot against the wall higher than your hips. Push your foot into the wall to give you enough leverage to do the same with your second leg. Walk both feet up, keeping your arms straight until you can straighten your legs. Keep the feet hip-width apart and stay here. This is a huge accomplishment and often quite scary. Don’t forget the rotation of your arms to keep you stable and a deep push into the wall with both feet to glue them into place. The thighs internally rotate (upper inner thighs down) to give you space in your lower back.
Continuing on from Step 2, lift one leg up and back into the air and hold it there. Keep it as straight and active as possible. Tilt your gaze toward the baseboard where your feet started. This will activate a Scorpion Pose sensation in your chest and help give you the counter balance to kick over. This is the point when the arms like to give out, so take a moment to renew the commitment to firm your upper outer arms in, and remember: No bending in the elbows.
Keep the top leg extending up and active as you bend the knee of the leg still at the wall. Gently dig your finger pads into your mat as you kick away from the wall. Drive your straight leg down to the ground, and follow with the second leg to land in a Standing Forward Fold. Once you get there, breathe, dangle, and relax!
Next time: Part II.
Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.