Wall Bow

partial yoga bow pose done back to a wall, nude man figure illustration

My work in yoga is seeing into a person and seeing into yoga, then shaping the yoga to fit the person. My job is to innovate to fit need.

A man I teach once a week has a tight and sore back. This is common, but he is exceptionally stiff.

He needs a pose that extends his back. But he can’t do the common stuff. He can barely extend his back in cat-cow. And he can’t do sphinx pose even very low.

He also needs to extend his hip flexors to help his back. We do bridge pose, but it quickly gets his back sore. He has relatively weak sacrospinalis muscles.

So what would fit his need and his strength? Bow pose would work, but he is not going to get into it. And he’s not going to fuss with a strap when practicing on his own.

Part of the work, one of the parts unseen, is figuring out how a person can get the benefits of a pose they cannot do. It can be very deliberate work of having the pose in mind, the person in mind, visualizing the anatomy, and working through variations. And I also have a background awareness as part of my own daily practice. This came from that: something in my practice early this week gave me the clue for a question I had in mind for him. But first you need to have the question in mind.

It works, and it is easy to teach. And it is part of a progression I can teach him to help him get to cat-cow and sphinx pose.

Align

This a supported and stable pose. It does need a little strength in the front of your thighs.

Stand with your back toward a stable wall. Get roughly a foot away from the wall. Put the back of your shoulders on the wall, but not the back of your head. Bend your knees so that your shins are vertical. Look straight ahead.

Engage

Like a lot of yoga, what you are doing is not what you see. All of the action is very small or internal.

Push your pubic bone forward, not your navel. Adjust the front and back tilt of your pelvis to control the arch of your back for comfort.

Imagine a straight line from knee to shoulder. If you can approximate that, imagine and do a slight convex bow from knee to shoulder.

This pose works well gentle and relaxed. Just engage enough to feel and hold the pull. Then relax slowly and do it again.

Caution

I looks simple. It is simple. But you can overdo it.

Do not push your head against the wall.

Do not over extend your lower back. It will hurt and keep hurting. As you push your pubic bone forward pull the top of your sacrum back.

Gentle persistence and repeating will do most good. Pushing hard can harm.

Feel

How you feel this pose is how you make it work. Though simple and stable and supported, it is an entirely active and not at all passive pose. Your feel and control as you engage and extend makes the pose useful and avoids harm.

Feel the pull along the front of your hips. Feel as you engage the back of your thighs to pull your pelvis back. Feel as you extend your back.

This pose, like a lot of yoga, calls on internal awareness and control.

Touch

You can feel what you cannot see. And there’s nothing to see here.

Touch can help you feel as you engage and extend. Rest your fingers on the front of your hips to better feel as you extend there. Rest your fingers on the back of your thighs to feel as you engage there. Rest a palm on your back to better feel and control the curve of your back.

Vary

Lift one heel, while keeping the toes of that foot on the floor, and engage to increase the pull along the front of the other leg.

Engage the pull softly then turn one thigh out just a little to move the pull from the front of your thigh to just a bit closer to your pubic bone. We do the same small adjustment in warrior 1 pose. Be careful with this: you can too easily strain your knee if you turn far or push hard.

Lift and open your chest and move the curve of your back upward.

illustration of yoga bow pose
Dhanurasana from Yogasopana Purvacatuska by Yogi Narayana Ghamande, 1905

Breaking Down the Poses – Chaturanga Dandasana – Yoga Flo-ga

Source: Breaking Down the Poses – Chaturanga Dandasana – Yoga Flo-ga

Sitting still

The Still Point: Capturing the movement of the mind
Tricycle Fall 2004

Wine

Dog

Eagle

Warrior 1

Just injured myself while attempting the death defying bread knife mudra — clumsy while irritated.

The writing on the internet about yoga — I should not read before handling sharp objects. The yoga industrial complex reliably annoys me.

But I wanted my toast warm — in which I failed.

Warrior 2 opens the pelvis and pulls the adductors. Warrior 1 is not a variation on 2.

If we understand that Warrior 1 extends the hip flexors, even if we watch plastic man do it, we can align it for us mortals.

Iyengar, Krishnamacharya’s student, like yogis before and since, worked as a performer as well as a teacher. He had supple hip flexors. He could extend his legs back considerably. So he could do Warrior 1 with his front knee at a right angle, his back leg well back, and still rotate his pelvis to face forward, lengthening his already extremely supple hip flexors.

We cannot. We are not plastic man.

Some (on the internet) advise turning the pelvis out in Warrior 1, opening the pelvis away from front, to align the back knee with the back foot. But doing that reduces the pull on the hip flexors and turns Warrior 1 into a variation on Warrior 2.

Instead bend the front knee less and turn the back foot to align the back knee with the hip. This keeps the pose well grounded and preserves the pull on the hip flexors. Lifting the back heel can also help a tight calf.

Iyengar makes challenging source material. Everytime we look at him or follow someone that takes from him uncritically, we must work to understand the purpose of the pose rather than try to copy the look of the pose.