Friday, October 7, 2011

Sore back, Kapotasana, Karandavasana

Did second only up to Karandavasana today. Almost did primary only (I know, the traditional thing to do is to do primary only on Fridays, but I'm not traditional in this way; I do primary only on Saturdays, and rest on Sundays). But I almost did primary only today, because my lower back was feeling really sore for most of yesterday; I was half expecting to have to slowly crawl out of bed this morning because of the soreness; backs, as most of us know, have a tendency to really stiffen during the night when they are sore during the day. Thankfully, this did not happen, and I was able to walk to the bathroom this morning like a, well, normal human being.

But why was my back sore? During yesterday's practice, I tried a little too zealously to get my leg behind my head in Ekapada and Dwipada Sirsasanas, despite pretty obvious signs that my hip wasn't quite open enough: A combination of bad old ego and inattention. For most of yesterday, I felt the soreness when I got up after sitting for more than half an hour; it wasn't quite as bad as when I messed up my SI joint last year, but it was definitely something noticeable. In any case, I was concerned that this would mean that I will have to go back to doing primary only for months... isn't it funny, the kinds of things Ashtangis worry about? I suspect that any other normal human being would be worrying about whether he or she would be able to even walk...

So I was faced with an interesting dilemma during practice this morning. As I got out of Ardha Badha Padmottanasana, I had to decide whether to go into Utkatasana (thus doing primary only) or into Pasasana and with it, second series. I decided that my back wasn't that sore, and that I would probably survive second (perhaps ego played a part in this decision too; how big its part was, I cannot be entirely sure).

Well, I seem to be right so far, knock on wood. It's slightly after two in the afternoon now. My back is still somewhat sore, but not nearly as sore as yesterday. Hopefully, this means it is healing. This is probably because I paid a lot more attention during practice today, especially in the postures that are more likely to stress the SI joint (Pasasana, the leg-behind-head postures, etc.).

Back soreness and SI joint anxieties not withstanding, there are a couple of interesting things to note about this morning's practice:

(1) Going into Kapotasana, I tried Frank's suggestion to take the prayer position higher: elbows together in front of the sternum, instead of prayer hands in front of the sternum. The idea, Frank suggested, is to use the arms as something to press the chest against, and thus bring about greater opening in the thoracic spine. It seemed to work: I didn't have to hang for nearly as many breaths in order to get the opening required to reach back and grab my feet, and then my heels. I'll continue working with this.

(2) In Karandavasana, I did my usual duck landing on the first attempt (just barely managed to land it today, but well, I'll take what I can get :-)). On the second attempt, I tried Frank's suggestion to work on "Half-ways": I got into Pincha Mayurasana, got my feet into lotus, and then, instead of bringing the lotus all the way down to land the duck, I tried to go only as far as I could and still come back up to lotus in Pincha. I found that I was actually able to curl the lotus around the pelvis and bring the lotus down about one-quarter of the way, and still come back up to lotus in Pincha. The idea here is to work on gradually going lower and lower, so that I will eventually be able to touch down in the duck and then come back up. Once I can do that, I can then go on to try touching down and holding the duck for one breath, then two breaths, etc, etc., so that eventually, one day, I will be able to hold the duck for five breaths and come back up. It's the same idea as learning to come up from Laghu Vajrasana, except that one is moving the body in a different direction and using different body parts. Very interesting. I'll keep working on this.

I always feel that a post on Karandavasana feels weirdly incomplete without a spectacular video of somebody doing this infamous pose. So here's the famous Laruga doing the infamous Karandavasana. Gosh, she looks totally effortless doing it. Whereas with me, you can probably hear me breathing from half a mile away when I'm working on this pose :-) But, well, everything is a work in progress. I can only do my best.


  1. Oh, here: David kind of does what I'm talking about in Kapo in this video, but you can go a bit further with it and actually touch your elbows to your head and use your head to stretch your shoulders open. Of course, like anything, you don't want to be to overzealous about it, but it will give you the same feeling as a teacher grabbing your hands/forearms to guide your hands right to your feet/heels/whatever. Since you practice alone, this could be especially useful for you (the self-assist!).

  2. Just saw the video. Very interesting. But I still think prayer with elbows against sternum works better for me, at least for now. But thanks for the reference: It's always good to look at how different practitioners and teachers approach the same posture.

  3. That's the way I practice in karandavasana. I can land it now but I'm not even close to come I think it's good to work on going down only so far that you still can come up. I try to do one of each actually.

  4. Very nice, Helena. Thanks for sharing. Good luck in your Karandavasana adventures! :-)

  5. Sorry, video does not demo first part of Kapo I was referring to ("high prayer" with elbows against sternum). Rather, the video sort of demos what happens in the second part of the back-bend I was referring to: instead of keeping the arms straight the whole time, bending the elbows while still having control of the descent and really stretching the shoulders.

  6. I see, Frank. Well, it's a great video, nonetheless :-)