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 advanced practice includes work at the wall ropes. It begins with a sequence hanging from the hips to create length and width across the torso. It moves on to some floor work to develop strength and integration in the front and back body, which is then taken into Salamba Shirshasana 1 (Head Stand 1). The classic Iyengar Ropes sequence called “Ropes 1” is interweaved with Adho Mukha Vrkshasana (Hand Stand) practice. All that chest and shoulder opening is then taken into Pincha Mayurasana (Forearm Stand) practice, followed by the shoulder balance variations of Salamba Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand).
This practice includes a lot of rope work, so it might not be accessible to everyone.
- Widen evenly across three bands of the back: the pelvic fan muscles and the two bands that include the superior posterior serratus and the inferior posterior serratus. The pelvic fans we explored here and the posterior serratus we explored here.
Support the widening of the back actions with these front body actions:
- Turn the xiphoid process towards the navel.
- Draw from the sitting bones to the pubic bone to to the navel.
- In general, find a connection inwards, from the extremities to the core, in order to find the strength and coordination to expand back out into the limbs.
Wrist Actions in Ropes:
- Widen across the heel of the hand and thumb mound.
- Lengthen from the forearm to the fingertips across back of the wrists.
- Draw from the heel of the hand to the forearm to strengthen the hand and wrists. (more…)
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 this practice we will be working with the head and neck as we either take it up in arm balances or back in back bends.
In previous practices we have supported the neck from the muscles that run along the front of the spine. Here we will focus on the muscles that run along the back of the spine, the erector spinae, while keeping the larger, more superficial muscle of the neck, the trapezius, soft and wide.
Consider the following directions as you go through the sequence:
- Allow the soft palate to release and dome towards the head as you allow it to lengthen towards the cheekbones.
- Soften and lengthen along the muscles at the front of the spine towards the tail.
- Soften the atlanto-occipital joint at the base of the skull.
- Soften and create freedom between the thoraco-cervical joint and the manubrium.
- Soften and widen the rear intercostal wall—the inner surface of the rib cage and intercostal muscles behind the back of the lungs.
- To lift the head or take it back, initiate movement in either the bridge of the nose or the cheek bones, lifting them away from the top of the sternum.
- As you take the head back, keep the back of the neck and the base of the skull long and wide. In essence, you want to lengthen the front of the neck without unduly shortening the back of it. Just as you are moving the bridge of the nose/cheekbones away from the sternum, you are releasing the back of the skull away from the upper thoracic spine.
- As the head goes back, resist the temptation to push the spine forward, deeper into the body. Keep the intercostal wall soft and wide.
This practice focuses on both strength and release of the upper body. In it, we will be finding strength and support for the shoulder girdle in the rib cage, softening the chest, back and shoulders in the process.
As we go though our days, there is often a tendency for the front of the body to collapse, the chest to slump and the shoulders to roll forward. Some of us then try to compensate by pulling the shoulders back and pinching the shoulder blades together to feel like the chest is open. In either case, the underlying balance of the torso is thrown off and we lose the fundamental structural support that allows the arms, shoulders, neck and head to be free.
Throughout the practice, consider the following points:
- Lengthen the sides of the torso off the legs from the hips towards the head.
- Widen the back and the chest evenly, so that you are neither slumped forward and down, nor pushed forward and up.
- Soften the space between the shoulders blades and the top of the chest across the collarbones.
- Allow the shoulders to release away from the head and the neck and to rest on the support of the ribs.
- When reaching through the arms, allow the collarbones and shoulder blades to move with them rather than keeping them pinched into the chest and back. (more…)
In each of these poses, consider the following points:
- Keep the entire torso—shoulders to hips— long and wide.
- Widen as evenly as possible across the upper back and chest.
- When the arms are behind the back, the shoulder blades naturally slide in towards each other. Keep them widening without pinching the space between them.
- Press the shoulder blades forward onto the back as you also widen the ribs out and press them back onto the shoulder blades.
- Strengthen the triceps and lengthen them towards the elbows. (more…)
In this practice, we are going to focus on supporting the arms from the strength around the rib cage. Consider the following points as you go through the sequence:
- Keep the upper back and the chest equally wide, softening the chest muscles and the muscles between the shoulder blades.
- Widen the collarbones and release the shoulder blades down the back.
- Allow the ribs to soften and swing down from head to hips as you exhale. Allow them to expand and roll up from hips to head as the breath rolls back in. Allow the ribs and shoulders to be independent, though connected. Keep the breath soft and free.
- Expand the ribs in the sides and the back to support the arms. (more…)
Once again, we are trying to keep the two organ pillars made if of lung, kidney and sides of the large intestine elongated and the kidneys suspended.
In the twisted poses, one pillar will lengthen along the axis of the body, while the other lung will turn around the core channel of the body to deepen the twist.
As you twist, maintain awareness of the kidneys. In some people, the kidneys might jam forward towards the front of the body while in others they might bulge back. Instead of pushing in one direction or the other, create space behind or in front of the organ so that the kidney can soften back into alignment.
In every pose, trace a path from the lung to the fingertips through the ribs, the shoulder blade and collar bone, the upper arm, elbow, forearm, palm and fingertips. Reach through that path. (more…)
In this practice think about the reach of the arm and the strength of the sides. When the arms are overhead, reach them not from the shoulders or the chest, but from the sides of the body, even as far down as the waist. When the arms are out to the sides at shoulder height, soften the shoulder blades and allow them to drop away from the ears towards the tail. Widen evenly out across the chest and the upper back. Find strength to support the arms from the side ribs and under the shoulder blades.
- Lie on the back with the feet flat on the floor and the knees up, the feet and legs parallel to each other and a folded blanket under the head.
- Take a few moments to soften and release the head, neck, shoulders and arms.