Why, in urdhva dhanurasana, is it all about walking your hands toward your feet, and not your feet toward your hands?

And why is doing all of primary plus a hunk of intermediate considered strength-building? In all other physical pursuits (running, climbing, weightlifting), long practices are used for building endurance, while short, intense practices are used for building strength. Following that logic, the best way to build strength would be to do standing poses and then jump into one’s intermediate poses.

Any thoughts/insights?


19 Responses

  1. my feeling is hands towards the feet because you want to keep the weight in the legs, untill you get to ticktocks and then you need to learn to navigate your weight over the hands. i always walk feet into hands first, and then get the last few inches with my hands, but it is a great deal harder and takes much more precision.
    and i always felt that my problem with my 1st/2nd practice was an endurance problem, i poop out, but it is probably a strength problem, too. there are many more vinyasas in 1st. perhaps that is the strength building part?

  2. Oh, yeah! Duh! It must be the vinyasas that are considered strength-building. Okay. I kind of get it. Still, the long haul is maybe a bit counterproductive to really building strength. At least by exercise science standards. This crazy Ashtanga — so complex and yet so simple.

    I guess I’ll be able to gauge my progress when I can move my hands more freely in urdhva dhanurasana. I have so much of my weight into my arms that it’s hard to move.

    Hey, did you try my email? Spell out the DZM part.

  3. Strength building: Hamish says that Primary builds strength because of the sheer number of vinyasas. Intermediate doesn’t have anywhere near so many. So if you do Primary and part of Intermediate you build strength and endurance, I guess (although I can imagine these two ofsetting each other a bit).

  4. D’oh, I wrote before reading the comments 🙂

  5. V, that wasn’t a d’oh at all, at least not for me! from your blog, i have picked up a great deal of VERY helpful information that you have passed on from Hamish! i was just talking out of my behind up there but having it confirmed by Hamish makes me feel like i might have some brain after all!

  6. DZM, i just sent you and email!

  7. Continuing on Tova’s experience of keeping the weight in the legs, and that being a reason to walk hands rather than feet…

    Between hands or feet, it’s the feet that really need to be grounded here, unless you are going to viparita chakrasana, where it’d be the opposite. For me, moving the feet interrupts the work of grounding equally through the feet, and really using the action in the balls of the feet and the big toes to align the sacrum. If you find that one or the other of your feet wants to splay as you move towards standing, that tells you what is happening in your sacrum. What feels like good alignment in the feet may be completely out of alignment and a response to whatever is going on in your low back. It helps to have someone else’s eyes to let you know what your feet are doing until you can look back and see them yourself (yes, that day will come).

    Internally rotate the thighs, ground down through the balls of the feet. Shins back.

    Many people would disagree, but I’d say that esp. given the fact that your sacrum is in the process of deciding where it wants to live, it’s important to work with feet parallel and directly under the hips. IMH experience.

  8. Oh, your comment on feet makes me think of something else, (0v0). I was taught (pre-Ashtanga) to ground “the corners” of my feet for balancing poses: in other words, the heels, and then both sides of the ball of the foot. Not much said about toes. I am finding, though, that in utthita hasta padangusthasana, my toes are getting more involved. Kind of like how the shifting pressures of the fingers help balance in handstand. It makes balancing a heck of a lot easier, which of course makes me wonder if I’m “cheating.” You know, because if it’s easy, it can’t be right. 😉

    Oh, and who would disagree with the parallel feet directly aligned with the hips? And why would they say that? I thought that was normal operating procedure…

  9. It is normal operating procedure. But sometimes not in Mysore, I’m told. And not for people who are rushing to stand up from urdvha so they can move on to second (sometimes a requirement). This topic can become political in my neck of the woods, which is a little silly.

    Right on about UHP. Toes are pretty important to balancing outside of asana, so they probably have secrets for balancing in asana too. I find that toe awareness connects to arch awareness, and that connects to mulabandha. But I might be toe-obsessed. Both my big toes are broken and sensitive, so I’m always kind of aware of them.

  10. It’s not like in Mysore they disagree with parallel feet. It’s just that they don’t seem to care if the feet are not parallel. My teacher doesn’t give a rat’s ass. I asked him once and he said that long term, it can lead to problems, but that I shouldn’t worry too much right now about keeping my feet parallel. I think for me, it will happen when it happens 🙂

  11. That is good to know. And good to know you have been fine with it!

    The way this subject plays out in this zone can be pretty funny. When disagreements occur in class, they are charged with the legacy ofone fraght relationship between SKPJ and one of his students. Teachers here can be emotional about this topic, passing on the emotions that accompanied their own learning of this work.

    I learned to stand up alone–just came up accidentally one morning. So thankfully I dodged that bullet (of the emotional transmission) and am able to see this from the outside.

    Hello, karma.

  12. Okay, well fair enough. I don’t mind having something be an aspirational principle — e.g., parallel feet. No doubt, some people get it more quickly than others.

    And I second the “let’s hear as much as you want to share about what Hamish says” motion. That’s the best thing about this Ashtanga community: I get to hear the thoughts of so many accomplished teachers and practitioners.

  13. KWYM, but doesn’t it sound a bit pedantic…”Hamish says, Hamish says…” Let me be oversensitive today (sorry!)

  14. You can be oversensitive today, but will you please tell us what Hamish says tomorrow? 😉 I’ve never heard you sound pedantic, when you’ve shared Hamish’s perspective.

  15. Haha! “Hello, karma” is right. We’ll see what you get…

  16. Well, I’m definitely not karma-free in this area, even if I did manage to dodge the weird karma of one long-ago teacher-student relationship.


  17. “I’ve never heard you sound pedantic, when you’ve shared Hamish’s perspective.”

    Does that mean that I sound pedantic when I am talking about other stuff? 🙂

  18. LOL! You’re funny, V!

  19. Hi Karen
    I think that all of the vinyasas that happen in the primary are strength-building for the shoulders and upper body, whereas the second series if more for opening the chest. I find that in the primary you have to come to sitting a lot, and if you’re doing so with cross legs before placing them trhough the feet, you build more upper body strength. In second there are vinyasas, but the poses don’t require you to come to your sitting bones as much as in first series.

    I’ve learned a lot recently regarding front stretching/back bending poses in workshops and will hopefully write about it soon, but I appreciate that Tova, Bindi, you and others have been writing about it. Personally I am relieved that my teacher in SF has separated the half primary and half second for me and is letting me do second after the standing sequence. I used to be so exhausted with the half/half practice that I would not even attempt Dwi Pada. Also, this way the practice doesn’t take as much time and it does not feel like such a concentration of effort.

    In Urdhva Danurasana, my other teacher in Berkeley tried having me walk the feet back to the hands a long time ago, but he does not do so any longer. Now he always have me walk the hands closer to the feet. One day I really got the sense of the transfer of weight to the feet. He only needs a little strap to bring me up. One teacher who subbed when the teacher was in Mysore had me practice against the wall, where I would walk the feet back towards the hands. That is the only recollection I have of someone asking me to walk the feet back to the hands recently. I think Bindi commented that it may not be so good for the lower back to do this.


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