Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Asana Question: Which hand is supposed to grab which hand in the various twisting binds?

This question arose from a conversation I had with Ellie after practice at the Yoga House on Sunday morning. Ellie said that the latest directive from Mysore is that in Marichyasanas C and D, and in Pasasana as well, the hand that belongs to the arm that does the wrapping around the legs is the hand that gets grabbed (by the other hand, which belongs to the non-wrapping arm).

Oh boy, is this convoluted, or what?! No wonder my students always seem so tired in class: Small wonder, if they have to put up with a professor who talks like this :-) Well, let me try this again. So suppose you are doing Mari D on the first side (left leg is in half-lotus). This would mean that the left hand (the wrapping hand) would be grabbed by the right hand in the bind. Is this right, Ellie? Correct me if I'm wrong.

When I heard this on Sunday, I thought this sounded right. And I thought that this is what I usually do in practice anyway. But my mind, it turns out, has a way of playing tricks with me. During this morning's practice, I paid attention to my grabbing during the Marichyasanas. And then I realized that I have been doing the exact opposite this whole time: My wrapping hand has in fact been grabbing the non-wrapping hand all this while!

So what's the big deal, you may ask? You may be thinking: If the latest directive from Mysore is to use the non-wrapping hand to grab the wrapping hand, why don't you just make the switch accordingly? What difference would it make, whatever hand grabs whatever hand?

Well, here's the deal: At Kino's Richmond workshop in April, she told me that in Mari C, I should use my free hand to hold the thigh of the extended leg; similarly, in Mari D, I should use the free hand to hold either the calf or shin of the leg that is in half-lotus. The idea is that doing this will (1) help me get deeper into the twist, and (2) improve my overall form in the posture.

And here's the problem: It is actually easier to hold the thigh/shin/calf in Mari C/D if the hand that is doing the grabbing is the wrapping hand. Try it: You'll see what I mean. (Sorry, I don't have any videos of me getting into the Marichyasanas to use to illustrate this, so you'll have to visualize everything in your head). In fact, I don't even think it is anatomically possible to hold the thigh/shin/calf if the wrapping hand is being grabbed.

Any feedback/suggestions you can offer on this will be greatly appreciated.


  1. Hi Nobel,

    I was taught, practice and teach the hand that wraps is the hand that grabs, like you do. I just checked Sharath's dvd just to be sure and he does it this way too.

  2. OK, that was a LOT of visualizing, but what Ellie pointed out is right, yes, for example: in Mari C, first side (right leg on half lotus) the right hand grabs the left... and I believe the hand that goes into the leg as you say in the latter paragraphs would also be the left.

    I am not sure this is a change, I believe it is how it has always been, yeap just checked with Matthew's book and wrote a post on it a while back...http://earthyogi.blogspot.com/search/label/Mari%20C

  3. Hmm... interesting. So here's what I have so far:

    Helen: The hand that wraps is the hand that grabs.

    Claudia: The hand that wraps is the hand that is being grabbed.

    Interesting. But Claudia, if the hand that wraps is the hand that is being grabbed, as you say it is, would you be able to bring the free hand into the leg in Mari D if you apply this rule? In my body, my free hand wouldn't be able to grab any part of my leg if I were to apply your rule.

  4. People get left and right mixed up all the time so I wouldn't worry about what you hear second hand. In Matthew's book, he does it like you (and me and just about anyone else, including Claudia, unless I'm getting things mixed up now) have been doing it.

    A few years ago the directive from the Source was that in all forward bends on both sides, the right hand should grab the left wrist (because it's bad for the sinister side to grab the good side). I did it for 1 day, went back to the usual way and haven't heard anything about it since.

  5. To clarify where I got this info from: in India this past February, Sharath told my teacher from California, who is authorized and who was assisting him, that it has been changed so that "the wrapper is NOT the grabber." She then passed that info on to me and everyone who was practicing in her program, that we should all change the grip. So since I've received that info from my teacher, that's what I do now. I also began teaching it that way, as in, telling students who had been practicing with me for a while to make the change.

    However, the entire time I was in India, it did not come up. I was continuing to practice "the wrapper is NOT the grabber," but I know many other people who were using "the wrapper is the grabber" and none of us were corrected or changed in either way, by Sharath, Saraswathi, or any of the assistants. So in teaching, I've come to have a live-and-let-grab approach to it. Just like in the Janus, where it doesn't reeeeeally matter, I don't switch people if they do it one way. If someone asks, I will tell them "the wrapper is not the grabber." So my feeling is that if it helps you to grab your ankle with your free hand, then keep doing what you're doing.

    Make sense?


  6. Well said, Dhr Bibberknie. I like your reference to the "Source". Who knew that good and evil/sinister have also been thrown into the mix at one point? :-)

    Yes, Ellie, this makes perfect sense. Thank you so much for the detailed clarification :-) I guess I can now go to sleep peacefully, wake up in the morning, and continue practicing "the wrapper is the grabber" :-) Try to stay cool down in Mpls. I hear the temperature went into the 100s today...

  7. Hmmm I guess I did not explain my self correctly, I say that the hand that wraps is the one that grabs too,

    if you see in the comment in mari C it would be the right hand (which is wrapping around the legs) that is the wrapper, the one that will hold on to the left, so yes the wrapper grabs the grabber, and in this way it is easy to get the grabber to hold on to the leg...

    My point was no different from Helen's

    The only thing is the right leg is not in half lotus in C, meant D.

  8. hehe, for an ashtanga beginner's point of view, it is very interesting to see hoe much importance is given to every single detail ;-)
    I also like the way Dhr Bibberknie refers to Mysore instructions as in 'directive from the Source'. thanks all - very informative.

  9. i was also just about to ask about the changes and why they happen when i stumbled upon Claudia's post from April 12th. the discussion got heated and , i might be wrong here, but nobody actually said what is the meaning and necessity for changes? one of the girls pointed out that if the whole asana system has a very long lineage and it has been done in a certain way for a certain reason - why do changes happen?
    thanks all ~ Ivana

  10. Hi Ivana. I am a relative beginner too but it seems to me that there are changes because the way Ashtanga is taught has changed. It used to be one to one, then it was one teacher to a small group, and now in Mysore it's a massive crowded class. I can't be certain but the changes could be based on what Sharath has been seeing in a large class. I know it may be confusing to you but sometimes what a teacher teaches may not 100% apply to you (but may apply 99%). In the beginning I would follow one teacher. But after awhile, if you find one piece of instruction that just doesn't seem to work with your body, and then hearing alternative options for that particular pose may be helpful.

  11. Wow, what a conversation this whole grabbing/wrapping thing has stirred up! I guess one needs to be an Ashtangi to be able to generate a lively conversation/debate from something as small as which-hand-grabs-which hand :-)

    Claudia, it's good to hear your clarification. So we were all really saying the same thing this whole time... :-)

    Hello Ivana, I think David Robson recently said that although the tradition itself is essentially unchanging, adjustments need to be made over time and when teaching individuals, because the needs vary over time and between individuals. One particular way of teaching or practicing that works perfectly for one individual or time may be quite inappropriate for another individual or time. You can think of entering the Ashtanga tradition as stepping into a river. Although the river itself is always the same river, different individuals step into the river at different points along the river and at different times (and probably in different states of mind too); because of all these differences, no two individuals' experiences of the practice can or should be the same.

  12. Yyogini, I think there is some truth to your hypothesis. Kino, for example, told me that she thinks the main reason for changing from second-series-before-standing-up-from-dropping-back to no-second-series-before-standing-up-from-dropping-back is a safety reason: With this rule, it is easier to ensure in a large class that the people who do second really have the front body strength and openness to do second safely.

  13. I'm from the 'Wrapper is the Grabber' school of thought/training as well, having read somewhere that having the non-wrapped hand rest on the calf of the straight leg in Mari C is considered the full expression of the pose. Perhaps the other version ('Wrapper is not the Grabber') is intended to deepen the posture for someone who's already proficient in it?

  14. Ah, savasanaaddict, so you are another fellow-adherent of the "Wrapper is the Grabber" school of thought :-) I think what you say about the fullest expression of Mari C sounds right. As for the other version, this is interesting: I'll have to find out what the purpose is behind "Wrapper is not the Grabber".

  15. I was taught the wrapper is the grabber.

  16. thanks all for the explanation ~ Ivana x

  17. LI Ashtangini, thanks for your input :-)

    Ivana: Glad to be of some service :-)

  18. I have been taught both of these. I just do one, and if I'm corrected when a new teacher comes along, so be it (though I've noticed that the longer I practice the less they tend to correct me on things like this). I don't really think it matters. I don't feel anything significantly differently physically. To me, it's a mental thing: just do something consistent, so you don't need to think about it (like so much else in this practice). I've seen a lot of people get obsessed over stuff like this, as if everything has only one right answer and teachers disagreeing about this must mean that one of them is wrong. I think it's most important to just do what your teacher wants (within reason--and what we're talking about here is not unreasonable; I'm more thinking about dangerous things or safety issues). Otherwise, this becomes a distraction. And, as we know, distractions (vrittis) are not conducive to yoga.

  19. Very interesting and refreshing way to look at this matter, Frank. I have a strong feeling that you are quite probably right that either way of grabbing/wrapping doesn't matter in the end, so long as one does it consistently. I guess it is in my nature to be distracted by such things :-)

  20. I have maintained this all along for I have read Sri T. Krishnamacharya's book looking at the pictures for Marichyasana poses ; of course bloggers that have been to the Mysore Ashtanga institute and some well known senior asht teachers do otherwise. See figure 4.66 Marichasana Sannaha Sthiti-right side 1 of Yoga Makaranda. Any how, things change and change is good, even how to do the Primary Series. grabbing with the wrap arm is more challenging for me so I work on grabbing with the non wrap arm, but alas Primary is a work in progress for myself and I am happy to grab the fingers and pull until grabbing the wrists on good days.

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  22. why do teachers correct on such irrelevant details? My practice is similar to the practice as taught by P Jois/Williams/Swenson/Paradise/Sweeney and of these the practice is slightly different but still Ashtanga classical; and when I go to a multistyle studio the hatha yoga teacher trained not in Ashtanga, but teaching an ashtanga class, always corrects me for doing Jois/W/S/P taught details stating I could injure myself. Upon each return I stay with the real ashtanga yoga until the hatha yoga teacher ignores me, for the class is advertised Ashtanga Yoga and I am trying for consistancy. Often times I have thought of doing my own Mysore class in the led class asking permission of course, is this rude?
    I believe the source is not Sherath or Manju, but Sri T. Krishnamacharya/P Jois.

  23. Hello Quentin,
    Thank you for sharing your insights and experience. Being somebody who has yet to go to Mysore, and who has not read the Makaranda, I can only venture to say this: Do the primary series (or whatever series you are working on), and stick with a particular method that works for you, whether that is taught by Jois/Williams/Swenson/Paradise, or by Sharath or Manju. Do your practice, and all is coming :-)