This intermediate inversions practice begins with reclined poses to soften and widen the chest and back, and open the shoulders. It follows with floor poses to integrate the legs and arms into the torso before going into Adho Mukha Vrkshasana (Hand Stand), Pincha Mayurasana (Forearm Stand), Salamba Shirshasana 1 (Head Stand 1), and shoulder stand variations.
This basic practice begins with floor work to create widening and lengthening of the torso and separation of the arms from the body. It follows with a short series of standing poses with a focus on the use of the arms and floor work to widen the chest and collarbones. Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose) is threaded through the practice to create stability and connection of the arms into the torso as well as to increase range of motion in the shoulder girdle.
This advanced practice begins with standing poses and inversions to activate the torso and integrate the legs while strengthening the upper body and opening the chest and shoulders. It follows with a series of back bends over the chair to open the abdomen, hip creases, chest and shoulders while minting integration of the limbs into the spine, ending with Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow Pose) from the floor. It ends with a short series of supported forward bends and restorative poses to widen the back and settle the energy.
This practice features a mixture of inverted back bends and deep forward bends. The linking thread between them is to maintain the connections between the pubic bone, the xiphoid process and the navel while keeping the back soft and wide. In the back bends, the front body connection can be soft and non-muscular, but it will maintain the integration of the limbs into the spine for a more effective core connection. In the forward bends, especially the arm balances at the end, even though the abdomen is condensed, a sense of softness is still important so the the back can soften and expand.
In addition, as you work with the twists, apply the following directions for the groins and sacrum:
- Widen and draw back the outer groin/hip crease. Adjust the sacrum so that the skin covering it flows towards your head.
- In twists, widen the trailing outer groin (the left groin when twisting to the right, the right groin when twisting to the left) as you draw the leading outer groin back.
In this practice, we continue with our theme of working with the arms and shoulders as we have done in our previous practice.
The arms and shoulders:
- Reach the forearms and upper arms away from each other.
- Draw the biceps up towards the shoulder.
- Empty out (soften and widen) the “eyes of the chest,” the space around the collarbones and upper pectorals.
- Turn the bottom tip of the shoulder blade forward and into the ribcage.
- Firm the outer edge of the shoulder blade forward and into the side body, creating a seamless bridge of support between the arms and the trunk.
- Broaden the shoulder joint away from each other.
- When bringing the arm up alongside the ear, look for an even see-sawing action. The upper arm comes back as the bottom tip of the shoulder blade moves forward around the fulcrum of the shoulder joint. This scapulohumeral rhythm, as it is called, is much more important than getting the arms as far back as you can.
In this practice we will look at ways of activating the arms, providing connection and support for the torso, but without adding more tension to the body. Very often when we work with the arms and shoulders, we grip in the ribs and tilt the chest back and up, narrowing the back. This has the effect of arching the back and shortening the spine, pulling it down away from the head. These combine together to compromise the free movement of the breath through the torso, which is the last thing we want to happen in our practice or, indeed, in our lives at large.
The following directions can be thought of as action and counteraction, the organization of the arms and shoulders requiring a correction in the torso. There is nothing wrong with approaching them this way in the beginning as you become familiar with them, but the ultimate go would be to allow them all to happen as parts of a unified whole, all coming together with no unneccessary expenditure of energy.