Saturday, May 2, 2015

How to Use Active Spinal Movements For Parsvakonasana

Parsvakonasna: A forward bending, side bending, twisting, backbend

If I could only give one instruction in class it would be something like, find lift in your postures.  Find lightness.

Okay, that's two, but that's what guides me through my self-practice reflection whenever I encounter and practice moving and postures.

That said, I encourage students to be mindful that they are not collapsing in their postures.

People who are very flexible often collapse out of habit, especially if they have not developed strength to balance their flexibility.

People who are stiffer might do it to try and get deeper into an image of a pose they think they should be in, often with some strain.

I have little slips and sinks and collapses that I still need to think of myself!  It is an ongoing work.

In standing poses there is always the possibility of sinking into the hips.  In arm balancing poses there is the possibility of sinking into the shoulders.  In backbends it tends to be sinking into the lower back.

In this post I look at a way to try parsvakonasana without sinking into the front hip.

I describe the key actions that give strength and stability to this pose and which help develop mobility.

I pay particular attention to some key spinal actions that will help you develop a strong and mobile core.

I have included two videos.  One has more slow and detailed visual instructions.  The other highlights the difference between lifting and sinking in the front hip.

I have also included step-by-step visual and written instructions, breaking down the pose into key leg, spinal, and upper body actions.

As with all my posts, I really write these for my students to practice outside of class.  If you are not a student of mine I encourage you to come to class or find a suitably qualified teacher who can help you better understand the feeling of these actions in your body!

Perhaps watch the key actions video first.  Then review the step-by-step instructions.  Then watch the difference between sinking and lifting.

Key actions video
This video shows me using my mime skills to show you how to come into the posture.

Perhaps the highlight of this video comes around 1 minute 50 seconds when a little boy (not in the screen shot) says 'I need to do a poo'.  A conversation ensues between the family members and the boy, discussing where he can do a poo, and culminates with dad's joking comment, 'well, you can't do a poo in the lake'.  As you can see, that brought a big smile to my face!

Key actions step-by-step instructions
Parsvakonasana, spinally speaking, is essentially a forward bending, side bending, twisting, backbend.  Is that what you are doing when you practice?  I deconstruct it below.

1. Sitting bones down, top of pelvis back, lengthens lower back and unsquashes front of groin.
2. Spinal forward bend.  This means firming the tummy in a way you can still breathe into it.  I do this by keeping top of pelvis back, leaning forward, and trying to move my hips forward without them actually moving.  I lean forward without letting my butt stick up and start to take my leg back.

3. Toe down then heel down.

4. Check sitting bones down and top of pelvis back.

5. Check front thigh is rolling out.  You could do this by thinking of how to roll it out.  You could do it by turning your front heel out slightly so outer foot points straight ahead then try gripping the heel back in without moving it. 

6. Check back thigh is rolling in.  You can allow your back pelvis to also come in if that helps.  In fact, these actions should help unsquash your lower back.  I have outer back foot lifting towards outer ankle.  
7. Stretch the ground with your feet.  That means pushing the front foot down and forward and the back foot down and backward. 

8. Lower ribs move back to middle back to help bring softness to your middle and upper back.  

9.  Spinal side bending.  That means you try and move the front of bottom pelvis forward and up towards bottom side front rib. In the picture you see me drawing those two points together.  Make sure the lower ribs stay back and don't pop out. 

10. Take top arm overhead.  Push armpits forward and up as though trying to bring your underarms towards your nose.  Outer armpit is rolling towards your face.  This enhances the side bend.
11. Turn from your navel level of spine towards the top pelvis.  Try not to move your top pelvis or move anything else.  This is just a spinal twist. Many people move the whole pelvis here but you want to make this a spinal movement. 
12.  Keep turning your spine progressively towards the sky.  In the photo I show turning the chest.  Again, try to keep this a spinal movement.  Also, watch that the lower ribs do not jut out. 
13. You can put your bottom arm wherever it goes without changing the preceding actions.  Here is the point where many people might just collapse in their front hip in an effort to reach the ground.  But in this photo you can see that I have kept the front hip exactly as it was in the preceding photo.  I come to the ground with my arm because I enhance the spinal side bend.  Wherever that bottom arm ends up, you don't sink into it either.  I am just lightly pressing my hand into the ground and mainly doing an action of moving that armpit towards the hips to enhance the spinal side bend. 

14. From there I add the last action.  This is a lengthening of the front of the spine.  I touched my upper chest in the photo (although the action comes from the navel).  I get a little lift which sort of feels like a little back bend in my upper back.  From there my head comes into place.  Many people will not feel comfortable with their head in this position.  It is better that you find your own comfortable position for your head and neck.  My head position is throat forward, chin up, combined with a little twist where move the top ear away from the top shoulder slightly.  I cannot show or explain this well here so I just suggest you move your head and neck gently and find your own comfortable spot. 
15. Here I stay firm but calm.  My tummy is firm but I can feel the movement of the breath there.  I am content and at peace.  I feel like I am doing something and I am getting warm from this posture.  It is about 10 degrees celcius in this photo yet I don't feel cold even in this crop top because I had been practicing for a little while and using active movements in such a way that I tensed less, stretched less and just enjoyed moving.  This is self-evident when you can see me laugh and smile as I hear the jokes of the people around me.  

Difference between sinking and lifting
In this video you can see me first coming into the posture so that I do not sink into the front hip.  In the second version I just sink into the front hip.

In the second way I do not do spinal side bending.  It is more just hip flexion.  Because of this I feel very passive.  I am not getting warmth and I am not moving energy through my spine effectively.

Ultimately how you come into postures is your choice.

Be happy and content.  Practice safely, mindfully, and peacefully.  When you practice like this people want to be around you.  You inspire movement in others.  As I was filming these sequences today I had at least 4 strangers come up to me, including two children who just wanted to do tricks with me (handstands and arm balances), all wanting to talk about what I was doing and how it just made them feel good.  I am certainly not the most elegant, strongest, most flexible person.  But I really enjoy doing what I do.   Happy with where I am.  When that happens I do believe you can have a powerful influence on helping others towards finding their own inner happiness too.

This is the type of thing I teach in classes, workshops, and retreats in Canberra, Sri Lanka, and Bali.  Hope to see you somewhere soon!

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