Meme: What was learning kapotasana like for you? Everyone’s tagged

I’ve been so pleased at how little kapotasana has been hurting, even as I get the double assist on it. I do the pose, I get the adjustment, it is intense but not painful, and life is good. Yeah, until later in the evening. How does this work? I do the pose at around 6:45 AM, and my lower back starts protesting at around 8 PM? I don’t feel injured, but man do I feel like I’ve been working on the sacrum. I did a little surfing to discover if this is common (of course it is, but I need proof positive!) and now I’d like to hear from other practitioners who’ve gone through the kapotasana-cranked back phase of Ashtanga yoga. I was telling Sanskrit Scholar that it reminds me of when my collarbones were screaming continuously for a month as I was learning supta kurmasana. The only difference is that I knew I couldn’t really hurt my collarbones, but I am more scared about my back.

So what’s the deal? Is it continuous pain for a month or two and then it resolves? Anyone with ideas about minimizing the pain — whether by particular poses, counterposes, or pharmaceuticals?

There’s so much info about primary — DVDs, books galore, online resources. Not so much with intermediate. I need a Gregor Maehle book on second series. Something to keep my poor mind busy as my body goes off on this unfathomable journey.


Led class this morning was great. Nice and warm, and I practiced between Returning Guy and The British Director. At the head of our mats, The Frenchwoman and The Foot Grabber. I felt nicely surrounded. The Cat was present, too, as was her dad, Renaissance Man. They’ve been away from Mysore practice, because he’s been teaching in the mornings. Apparently they’ll be back in a week or so.

Volleyball Guy did his usual mosey around the room, giving adjustments to each person in turn. I was in line for Marichy A, but he skipped past me and adjusted someone else. Same thing with Marichy B and C. Then he came back to me for Marichy D. I love that adjustment, though I also always feel a little greedy for being so eager to get it: it’s clearly a tough adjustment for the teacher — very “Exorcist,” very physically demanding. Lately I’ve been tucking my wrapping fingers into my thigh crease in Marichy C and D. But with the adjustment on D, I can grab the shin of the lotus leg, which makes the whole pose pull together nice and tight. Like pulling a knot tight.


Now I’m at home, reading. Made a banana bread, which is currently baking. Yesterday was The Cop’s birthday. I didn’t make him a cake (though I did get him a book on jiu jitsu). I’m a slacker cook, no question about it. Plus if I get up at 4:30, practice, go to work, then go to get my hair colored, the last freaking thing I’m gonna do when I finally get home is make a cake. The Cop isn’t big on sweets either, so it was an easy decision. Today, though, when I spotted the bananas on the kitchen counter, it occurred to me that a baked good, something useful like a banana bread, would be a bit celebratory. With “real” cakes (which The Cop requests once or twice a year), we cut a couple of pieces out of the middle, then watch the rest of the cake deteriorate in the refrigerator until someone finally gets sick of looking at it and throws it out. The Dog, let me tell you, is shocked and appalled when we throw away cake. And I feel bad doing it, too, because it is clear she would really like to have it.

Oh, and the reading for today is the research on positive and negative perfectionism. Folks with positive perfectionism score high on Personal Standards, but low on Concern over Mistakes and Doubts about Actions (and yes, that’s how they capitalize the terms of the study). People with negative perfectionism score high on Personal Standards, but also high on Concern over Mistakes and Doubts about Actions.

A couple random, interesting points:

  • When both “normal” and “neurotic” perfectionism are elevated, body image disturbance is elevated.
  • The negative perfectionists also reported higher scored on Parental Criticism.
  • One thing that is fascinating in all of this is reading the way researchers try to quantify characteristics like Conscientiousness, Openness to Experience, Agreeableness. All of this is taken out of context and just a jumble of my lazy reading, but I’m not in it to challenge the methodology of the study. I’m just looking to try to understand perfectionism a little more. This particular study is looking at triathletes. I haven’t gotten to the final findings yet — they’re still setting up the context. Already I’m wondering, though, if there might be findings that apply to Ashtangis. I mean, just think of the traditional guru system: it seems to offer great potential for perceptions of Parental Criticism. On the other hand, if your teacher tells you what to do, you probably won’t suffer from Doubts about Actions (since someone else is deciding what your actions are).

    Anyhow, just some random thoughts on Saturday afternoon. Hoping to hear back from some folks on their experiences with kapotasana…


    11 Responses

    1. Yes, I’ve experienced brief phases of delayed low-back soreness. Please be careful– this is delicate territory. Some random thoughts:

      -There are muscles and ligaments involved. On a muscular level, you’re both stretching the lumbar, AND strengthening. That exit from kapo is an awesome strengthener. Best case (if unlikely) scenario is that you’re sore from muscle-making.

      -But, the S1-L5 and the Sacro-Iliac are both in play here. You can hurt the SI both on the edge, right over the sacral dimples, and on the upper crest (maybe elsewhere- I dunno). Look at a good skeleton, maybe: if you’re having weird new sensations, it might be the discovery of this hidden aperture. Some anatomy books say the range of motion in the S-I is 5-10 degrees. RIIIIIIGHT. As much as possible, you want to keep out of the S-I, because it’s possible to damage the little ligaments that hold it together. (They inflame very easily if they get trippy.) Nevertheless, in the journey from here to the firefly, some opening in the SI is inevitable. Thankfully you have the bakasanas and twists in between: they are great gifts as counterposes in this insanely brilliant sequence.

      -Ice. Some people will say it’s not ayurvedic. Whatever. It’s the best anti-inflammatory. Hot baths with salt feel nice, but ice afterwards. Backrubs also nice.

      -The pain may be delaying because the morning ibuprofen offsets it. At a time like this, it might be worth considering going into practice raw. That way your pain-receptors will be sharp. This is not a time you want your edge to be blurred. Caffeine may also blur that edge. (This one may be just me. Honestly, those who start with a little advil or espresso seem to have genuinely good experiences with it. In this sense, it’s no more “cheating” than my waking up with kapalabhati and then rocking out on the drive to practice. I just worry that at this moment, it could be cutting in on your conversation with your body, rather than providing nice background music.)

      -As much as possible, bring the bend into the thoracic! This is a key to a long-term loving relationship with the pose, I think: it is the ultimate heart-opener. Supta Vaj is an awesome place to open your thoracic like never before, and once you get it, your kapo will change. Meantime, think about that shoulder work. Maybe also, at the very beginning on your knees, think of the energy moving up up up and then over in a tight arc. Over time, begin aiming the gaze for the toes as you go in (this drste-thing is just me, possibly).

      -To protect the low back, continue making it about leg strength, like you’re doing. Strongly rotate the thighs internally and press all toes strongly into the floor: it’s probably the most important action to protect the lumbar. If you’re ever going to strap something up, well, this wouldn’t be a bad place now and then.

      -Finally, in frequent instantiations of the AYR method, kapotasana is a trigger for energetic changes. You’ll hear about sleeplessness, but there may be more. The energetic, and in some ways spiritual, shift I went through here was… really something.

    2. Thanks for such generous advice. Absolutely right on about the ibuprofen. I had a look at the anatomy of the lower back, iced, and renewed my commitment to keep it in my legs and thoracic. Less about “getting” the pose (the toes) 🙂 and more about bending the back.

    3. Ironically, “success” (heavy on the quotations there) seems to come with the release of expectations. Or in other words, a detachment from outcomes. Totally an Arjuna-on-the-battlefield/ karma yoga thing. I feel like this, like supta kurma, is an awkward, claustrophobic pose that teaches surrender. It’s awesome. And like you said, a gift.

    4. I can’t say anything that OvO hasn’t said better (I now feel that I should catch up on knowledge! :-P). As for my experience with Kapotasana, I am afraid there is nothing interesting to it. Being a natural backbender, I could do it from day one. Took a few weeks for H to stop adjusting me in it, and I hated that phase, but from the beginning my hands were on my heels. I thought about not writing here, since in the past when I’ve talked about the poses I can do easily, I’ve been accused of bragging, but it is what it is and it would be absurd to deny it. I find Supta K difficult and backbends easy. That doesn’t make me a “braggard” or better or worse than anyone else.

      I’ve heard that Kapotasana makes everyone cry at some point, but I yet have to experience it. I have been close once or twice, but I think it was more pure exhaustion from my long practice/

    5. It’s not bragging, Vanessa. It’s an interesting phenomenon, isn’t it, how stating something simple like “that was always an easy pose for me” can set people off? Is supta kurmasana the only pose you’ve had to really struggle with? (I know you are working hard on LBH, but it doesn’t necessarily seem like a tremendous struggle for you, more just a tough challenge.)

    6. Supta Kurmasana was hell for me. Dwi Pada is hard, but I have no doubt that eventually I will be able to do it by myself. On the other hand, for a long time I was convinced that I would never be able to do Supta Kurmasana, even with a theacher’s assistance. My body didn’t want to go there, I’m sure a couple of teachers broke their backs trying to move what felt like steel legs, and to make matters worse, I fought them wildly.

      It took Sharath first and Hamish later to just put me in it in spite of my resistance, my objections and even my tears. At a certain point, I had a clear choice: either surrender to the pose and accept that Hamish knew what he was doing and that he wouldn’t hurt me and that I would be safe, or just give up, go somewhere else, find another shala where I’d be left alone in my Supta K misery. I’m glad I stuck it out, as it taught me lots about trust, about letting go, about accepting that I am not 100% in control of my destiny, and about just being in discomfort and letting it wash over me.

    7. I love what Vanessa says about surrender, and the dedication it took to get through Supta K. I’m reading this silly book (quasi self-help–ack!): _Mastery_, by George Leonard. He writes about how one’s relationship to a physical practice is often like her intimate relationships. Some people bomb out at a place like Supta K (or, for those who are natural forward-benders instead of back-benders, Kapotasana) and look for a new discipline, some stay on. I haven’t been through anything as demoralizing as Vanessa’s Supta K… until the present, un-definable two months of back drama. Anyway, DZM, I’m seeing more curiosity than greed in your descriptions of the Kapotasana quest. It will be interesting, and good.

    8. Even though my back is fairly flexible, and I can usually get my heels on my own (sometimes after 3 or 4 attempts), I have hurt my back in the pose – took 3 weeks before I could attempt it again. For me, kapotasana is the first of 4 psychological “Goliaths” in intermediate – the others are dwi pada, tittibhasana and karandavasana. They all raise quite a bit of dread, soreness and fatigue, but I guess that’s all part of the game plan. If it’s any consolation, Rolf N. says kapo and karanda are the two hardest poses in the first 4 series.

    9. Oh, that is a great consolation, actually! Helps put things in perspective. Thanks.

    10. Just started working on kapo, great to come across this post and the comments. Am wondering, half a year on ,how’s your Kapo now and what helped/worked made a difference? Does your back still ache a few hours later?

    11. Hi Grimmly — Half a year on, there is no more ache in my lower back. At this point, it is all about getting my shoulders/upper back to open up. That’s where I’m most tight. That’s been slow going, but finally, it’s starting to happen. So I guess the answer is that I am still muddling along. Interestingly, I actually enjoy doing kapo every morning — I didn’t imagine I’ve *ever* say that!

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