Monday, 29 April 2013

An Effortless Backbending Prep Pose: Mega Stretch

Sounds so easy but there's a bit more to it than that!

We had a great time opening ourselves to freer backbends on Saturday with several people doing their first ever urdhva dhanurasana!  It was pretty exciting to watch. 

One of the poses we practiced is not really a pose, but a prep pose.  I call it mega stretch.  When you try the name will be self evident.  It may have another name but I'll stick to this one.  

Mega stretch is not just about stretching it is about strengthening.  When you combine strengthening with stretching you get a long, lean muscle that is less likely to be injured in intense positions.  

I have a mega stretch video clip I made when I lived in Sri Lanka.  You'll see me on my rooftop with a plant growing from the wall in the background.  Love those wall plants!  There's a bit of Eva Cassidy playing in the background from somewhere too.  

We did a fair amount of preparation before mega stretch.  This is not a pose to just leap into.  Do some standing poses, including high lunges and low lunges, throw in a few warriors and twists, and come into this pose with an intention to be mindful to the sensations that are going to arise within you.  Please read the tips before practicing.  

In the the mega stretch on the video clip there is little escape from the intensity of the stretch.  So you need to go with the flow and breathe.  Of course, as always, be mindful of any strain that might be leading to injury.  In this pose the most likely strain would be in the knee joint or possibly the lower back if you are not mindful.  Below I have outlined a few points about the integrity of the joints for this pose:
  • fold up your mat like I do in the video clip.  This is actually just to act as a cushion for your knee.  The thing about this pose is that it looks like the pressure is on your knee, but your weight is actually not on your knee cap but on the bottom of the thigh bone.  I usually do this pose against a wall without my mat, but, having said that, having a little cushion does bring a bit of comfort.
  • watch the front knee does not come too far in front of the ankle.  As a general guide, for most people keep the knee above the ankle.
  • in the video clip I fix my shin straight up the wall and then slip my pelvis inside the heel of my foot to take it all the way back to the wall.  You do not need to do this and you should not force yourself to do this.  Remember, yoga is never about forcing.  Your body will 'do' when it is ready. Your pelvis can stay in front of your foot, it does not have to go back to the wall, and that is completely ok!  You can use this pose as a lunge variation rather than as the virasana variation as I move into.  Work within your limits. 
  • try not to let your lower ribs just jut out as though you are 'spilling your guts' or hanging in your lower back.  
  • if you are going to take your arms overhead then take them up by pressing the armpits down and forward (letting the shoulder blades wrap around the ribcage) while simultaneously taking the elbows up and back.  They do not need to go overhead and could stay in front of your face.  Move them slowly and watch that your lower ribs don't start to jut out--you'll want to keep those softening back. 
  • when you come into the lunge variation, try to move the back knee forward as though you were trying to bend at the hip that you are stretching.  Also, try to press the sitting bone down and under and forward as though in an arc.  These two actions should help free the spine and provide a strengthening element to the mega stretch. 
  • ankles that are tight might make it a bit difficult to get into this posture so that the wall foot is flat.   If the front of your ankles are tight and you cannot get them flat against the wall then roll up a little hand towel and place it between your ankle and the wall.

See if you can hold the two poses I demonstrate in the video clip for about a minute each.  Focus on steadying your breath as you do so.  In between legs, get up and move around.  You will really feel the new 'freedom' in the leg that you have just stretched.  When finished perhaps take a pose like supta baddhakonasana or something that feels good for you.   

Explore, have fun, and practice safely.

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