Saturday, 30 April 2016

No warm up backbends

In this video, one of my great teachers (Paddy McGrath, Dancing Spine Yoga) got a small group together so we could give a taste of what you might experience with her (for more of her genius go to

We all met at the beach at 7 am.  For some of us (me in particular) that meant waking up a bit beforehand and heading down.

We spent a few minutes trying to find a place to rest my computer so we could take the video--a handy park bench did the trick--then lay ourselves down on the ground (very bumpy as it turned out with the beautiful tree above us having shed a bucket load of marble sized seeds!).

And this is what we did.

We did a few more things like that, backbends different ways, some backdrops, a few squats, a standing balance.  Then we closed up shop and went for a coffee/juice/tea down the road.

The point is we woke up and a few minutes later we met casually on the beach and did our flicking backbends then left.  We did not spend hours or even minutes 'warming up' or 'cooling down'.

We did do a few 'rolling wall squats' (a type of moving from standing, squatting, standing where you try to keep your weight forward the whole time and prevent your butt sticking up and shifting back while pretending to slide your nose up and down an imaginary wall right in front of you).

Then it was "lights, camera, action" on our wiggling spines.

We all practiced our own variation of backbending.  We all have different spines so that is normal. We are not going to look the same.  But hopefully we all felt the same inside.  That is, with a delicious free and moving spine.

These back bends were as normal as walking.  Just another movement/action in our day.

Hopefully you do not need to warm up to go for a walk or take a swim in the ocean.

And so we practice with our back bends.  As though they are just a normal movement and part of our day.

My backbend at 7am after waking is not the same shape as one a bit later.  Indeed, none of my backbends are ever the same. But if I work mindfully then I can still feel lightness and ease of spine no matter when I practice.

We did not do warm-downs, counter-poses or anything to finish.  We did do a short standing balance pose to 'give back' to our spines, which looked liked this.

And our spines felt delicious.

If your backbends in the middle of the day routinely feel squashed or jammed then you won't be able to do the same thing first thing in the morning and get a different result.  You might need to adjust your technique.

Paddy gave us lots of different ways to free our spines, with specific feedback that was unique to our level of practice, our level of 'mental preparedness', and our level of movement.  That is what makes practicing with her so special.

When you practice in a way that is not striving for a particular outcome, without over-stretching or tensing too much then you find a beautiful space to work in.

Thanks to you, Paddy, for helping us find that space, for freeing our spines, and supporting our realisation that dropping down first thing in the morning to wiggle freely into a backbend can be entirely normal.

To practice with Paddy go to

If you can't make it then you can meet us here in Canberra out by the lake doing our own bit of wriggling.

And finally, I am not suggesting you all wake up and do backbends--especially if you have not learned to do them without squishing.  But perhaps be open to the possibility that it is possible and that there might be some teachers out there who can show you how!

Happy and safe dancing spines!
Much metta,

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Shoulder Variations For Dhanurasana

We introduced these tummy lying backbends in class recently.  There are a whole lot of things you can do with your arms in them.

This post is just for watching and not really for practicing until you come to class and I can talk to you and we can consider what is going on with your knees, spine, and shoulders and figure out what might be safe and comfortable for you.

Always remember you do not need to take your foot at all.  If you have troubles with your knees, spine, or shoulders you should talk to your teacher before you even consider it.  You can just bend the knee and reach towards your foot without actually taking it, as shown below.  For some people this will be enough.

Some other things to consider in the variations I show in the video is the shoulder is rolling out when you take it back.  It rolls in again in some variations and stays there or rolls back out again while possibly doing a variety of other things around the shoulder, shoulder blade and elbow joint complexes.

The point is, there is a lot going on around the shoulder joints and you really need to take extreme care before embarking on any of these variations.

For that reason I am just showing them here so you can maybe take a look in slow motion and have a visual memory of the movement patterns for when you come to class and we can discuss more in person.

The three shoulder variations I show in the video are shown below.  In all of these positions I am basically doing the same thing with my leg, which is to press my shin or foot away and then up. 

In these variations the hand can have a pulling action but I counter it with the pulling action of the shin and foot so that it is not just an arm pulling and tugging at the leg.  
I am mindful of how the knee is feeling and I don't feel squashing in the knee joint.  

I am mindful of how the shoulder is feeling and I don't feel over-stretching at the shoulder joint.

I am mindful of how my spine is feeling so I take action to ensure I am not bending through one part of my spine only.  In fact, I keep my pubic bone and lower ribs on the table, do a sit up in my tummy, and try to lengthen and wriggle my spine forward and up so that there is never squishing in my lower back and this pose ends up feeling great in my spine for all variations. 

I make sure I can breathe naturally (although the breath tends to quicken here).  I relax and soften my face.

These variations are tough.  They are not for everyone.  But remember the first option is also a good one (where you do not hold your foot) so you stay there as necessary.

Just for fun I also made this video of natarajasana on a table, which shows the same arm variations.  It is more tricky because you have to balance as well.

Learning on the table beforehand helps you sort out the feeling in your spine.

We might try a few of these at my retreat in April but will definitely be working on them in class when I come back.

Canberra students, keep an eye on my timetable for April as I am away for a few weeks but here for a few classes!  Hope to see you somewhere soon.

Happy and safe practicing.

Much metta,