about summer being the time when you can make leaps and bounds in your practice.
Exhibit A: Tanja told me that she learned to grab her own ankles in backbends while in the heat of India, but was able to carry forward the kinesthetic memory into her practice on the not-as-hot East Coast.
Exhibit B: Everyone says so. There’s got to be something to it when EVERYONE says it’s true. Much as I hate to admit it.
Exhibit C: My practice is feeling looser, softer, stronger. I am now able to get a strong bind in every Marichyasana (wrist in A and B, touching wrist with a finger in C and D) no matter how sweaty I am, no matter how slippery my hands, my skin, my mat. Backbends no longer make me want to cry in pain – backpain, that is. And the lower back opens up significantly faster each day, which I take note of as I jump forward in Surya Namaskar. I like to jump forward with my thighs pressed up against my belly, my knees smooshed against my chest. It makes for nicer jump-throughs once I get to the seated poses.
Exhibit D: Supta Kurmasana is getting there. I find that my understanding of it is getting distilled down too, gradually, from a kind of chaotic flailing of limbs wherever they would go and a wing and a prayer that Sir could somehow contain all of the chaos, both physically and metaphorically (metaphorically, as in, not fully understanding what the pose is really about and reaching and grasping for answers when the only real answers can come with practice), to something far more contained and simple. The hands bind. The feet are managing to cross. The hands stay bound, although they begin to slip. Sir said, “Keep your hands together,” three times, which is to say that he must believe that I am in control of this hand slippage, which is to say that it must be true. Nevertheless, in this great distilling down, I have come to the conclusion that there are two things that must happen for Supta Kurmasana to stop being a struggle for me, and they are, at the very core, physical:
1. My arms must get longer.
2. My femur bones must rotate more freely in my hip sockets.
Don’t laugh at number 1. Obviously, I’ve got the arms I’ve got, and they are never going to grow longer, per se. However, as tendons get looser, as muscles get stretched, as joints move more freely, the effect is a greater wingspan. Simply put, I must increase my wingspan. When I began practicing, binding in Ardha Baddha was a ridiculous joke. It seemed impossible. Imagine how Baddha Padmasana seemed? Ha! But my arms “got longer”, and now binding on a lotus-leg’s foot is child’s play for me. Back as late as 2004, Marichyasana A was something I could only do after a very hot bath, and if I rolled onto my binding arm’s shoulder to force the forearm to move across my back. Now, I can wrist bind. So, my arms got longer, in a way. Same with B, C and D. You can always think of a whole host of reasons why your anatomy is not suitable to a particular pose – but there is always another way around it. If you’re too fat, then you have to be extra flexible. If your arms are too short, you might have to lose some fat. If your shins don’t take your binding knee up high enough, then you’re going to have to be a much deeper twister than some in order to make Mari C and D happen. Etcetera, ad nauseum.
So, yeah, I am muscular. But so is Madonna, who in fact, makes me look like a short, fat cream-puff. And she is way past Supta K, from what I can see. And yeah, so, my shoulders are broader than my hips. But so it is with most men I see at the shala who are doing just fine in Supta K. If I have to work with arms that are a bit muscle-bound and shoulders that are a bit broad when it comes to flinging the legs up and over them in a way that doesn’t create a force of energy pressing outward onto my attempting-to-stay-bound-arms, then I simply need to increase my wingspan and reduce the amount of effort it takes to keep my legs pointing upward from behind my shoulders.
Ergo, the two factors: “longer” arms and “softer” hips.
When the thigh-bones rotate smoothly and easily like a well-oiled ball-in-socket, then the bringing of my ankles together in Supta K won’t be so forced, so abrupt, so tense, such that my legs will no longer be desperate to unravel themselves, such that my thighs will stop placing so much pressure on my arms. At that point, the shoulders will be free-er of the legs pressing down on them, and the arms will have the effect of being “longer”. At the same time, as I work towards lengthening my arms, there will be more room for the legs to be moved into the proper position for the pose, less disturbance of the arms when the legs move.
Longer arms. Softer hips.
How does one do that?
The first is easy – Prasrarita Pado C. Loooooooooooong arms. Hanging from playground equipment. Looooooooooooong arms. Doing baseball-warmups – swinging the arms around and around and around. This feels quite good. If more people did this as they aged, there would be far less “frozen shoulder” around. (aside: how can people let themselves not move their bodies, not stretch??? I can’t make it through a single day without stretching!).
The second – I’m thinking Karna Pidasana, really pressing the knees to the floor, really pressing the knees against the ears at the same time. I’m thinking of staying there for a bit and then moving into Yoga Nidrasana, attempting to bind, but not making an issue out of it, since the hips are the thing here. I’m thinking ankle-to-knee pose. I’m thinking Hanumanasana with the chest to the floor right next to the front leg (making it really a half Kurmasana). I’m thinking leg swings – like what I remember from dance classes when i was a kid.