Once flexibility and strength provide access to inversions, your mind must be able to concentrate on the many factors it takes to levitate. These exercises will challenge your focus and ability to sustain a stable position in body and mind. Additionally, binds help demonstrate the power of equal + opposite force to resist gravity.
First, warm up your spine with a few cat/cow stretches
Start on your hands and knees. Inhale while you lift your chin and arch your back, exhale and round your spine. Link movement and breath for five rounds.
Next, one legged!
Bring your knees together. Lift your left heel up and back like you want to stomp on the ceiling. Keep your hips square; notice if your knee opened toward the side and narrow your thighs. Complete your backbend by lifting your chin. On your next exhale bring your left knee to your nose, pressing your shoulder blades apart to round your spine. Repeat five times on each side.
Focus and bind.
Start on your hands and knees. Lift your left heel and narrow your thighs, just like last time. Shift more weight onto your left palm and try to claw your right fingertips on the ground. Take a moment to establish your balance and only then, try extending right your arm forward, in line with your shoulder. Wait for steadiness, then reach back to hold onto the outer ankle. Make sure your thumb is oriented toward the ceiling so your chest and shoulder stretch too.
Actively kick your left foot into your right hand and experience lightness. As the foot kicks, that same hip pulls in the opposite direction like a tug-of-war. This energy transference will help to resist the downward force of gravity and create an equal force moving away from one another, creating harmony and balance. Hold for five breaths on each side.
Now, step it up a notch!
Start in downward facing dog. Lift your right leg and bend the knee, opening up your hips in three-legged-dog. Pivot the standing heel to the ground in a 45* angle, like you would in a Warrior 1. Use the entire foot to stabilize and shift your gaze to the hands. Press into each one equally and level out the weight in your shoulders. Next, make a claw with your left fingertips.
Notice how the balance shifts; press into your grounded palm and reach your chest back more. Continue working on this variation until you can breathe and balance with ease. Only then, proceed to the next option.
Walk the Claw.
Lightly walk your fingertips down the mat toward your grounded toes. Keep your gaze forward and as you press your chest back with the right palm, notice the weight transferring to your clawed fingertips.
Find your balance and hold for 5 breaths.
An integral part of this process is recognizing when the ego is in charge rather then the body-wisdom. Until you learn to listen to the intelligence in your tissues, your safety is compromised. Let your body and breath be your guide, instead of rushing to achieve the end-goal or forcing your body into a shape it "should" look like.
If breathing becomes challenging that's your cue to tone it down.
If you were able hold that last variation for five breaths, take it one step further. Reach your claw back for the instep of your floating ankle. Continue to use the support of your grounded heel and palm, in addition to the energy of your leg actively kicking your hand away from the earth, thus lifting the torso too. Find harmony between the downward force of gravity and the strength of your leg lifting in opposition, and hold 5 breaths each side.
Work hard, rest hard.
Take child's pose and repeat the shoulder stretch from week one. Then locate two blocks or use a step in your house.
As we explore back bending with elevated feet, you'll notice more ease getting into the pose because you have extra length to arch your spine. That way, you can practice mindfully moving into alignment without the help of your eyes. This training will be useful when you're in an inversion and must align your hips and legs in the sky while you're looking at the ground. Train your mind to listen to the feedback from the body and adjust accordingly, going through your alignment "check-list" and building your pose from the ground up and from the inside-out.
Start lying on your back with knees bent and feet resting on blocks at the edge of your sitting bones. Lengthen your arms alongside your waist, press down with your big toes and inner arches of the feet to feel your adductors (inner thighs) engage. Exhale out of your mouth and on your in-breath, curl your tail off the ground and float your hips into bridge pose.
OPTION ONE: Interlace your hands behind your back and walk your arm bones underneath your ribcage. Continue to press into your big toes and narrow the thigh bones for five breaths.
OPTION TWO: Place your palms on either side of your ears, fingernails towards your shoulders. With the hips already lifted, rise onto the crown of your head. Rotate your shoulder blades down your back and then extend your arms and legs with equal strength. Continue to press into your big toes and narrow the thigh bones for five breaths.
OPTION THREE: (pictured above) Once your crown is resting on the ground, leave it there. Walk your fingertips back toward your blocks. Narrow the elbows so they're shoulder-width apart. Press down with your forearms and hover your head off the ground. Explore tilting your chin towards your chest or looking back towards your feet. Continue to press into your big toes and narrow the thigh bones for five breaths.
Laying on your back, kick your heels up and wrap your right thigh around the left thigh like eagle legs. Twist your knees to the left and bring them into the left armpit. Create flexion in your spine by curling in, and open your right arm to the side, spin your chin in that direction. Repeat other side.
Now that we've practiced gaining flexibility in the shoulders, strength in the core and stability in the mind, the only thing left to do is FLY!
Next time, on the quest to Pincha Mayurasana.
Special thanks to Katie Bricmont's photography skills for capturing this week's images. Check out more of her amazing work here.