Chakrasana. How do I love thee?

Not so much, though getting better.

What’s my problem with chakrasana, you ask? I think it may be my tight shoulders and traps. Or my back that doesn’t like to curl up into a ball. Likely both.

For a long time, I just ignored it. Transition — not important. But I knew I was fooling myself. So the day came that I had to face chakrasana. I wish I could say it was a moment of self-revelation, but it actually happened in Singapore, when — after I blithely skipped chakrasana — I heard Celeste Lau ask, “Karen, why don’t you do chakrasana?”

“Because I’m lazy,” answered my remarkably honest inner monolog. For Celeste, I just shrugged.

And then she made me try chakrasana. A BUNCH of times. It was excruciating, in large part because I had just flown for 25 hours, and was in a new shala in a new city in a new time zone far, far from my normal time zone, and had hopped into a cab with a slip of paper with an address, and asked a driver who didn’t speak English to take me somewhere I wouldn’t recognize even when I got there. I was a little stressed.

I keep my stress in my traps and shoulders.

Okay, so Celeste put me through my paces, in terms of trying. She put a towel under my shoulders to prop me up. She gave me a boost over the top of the roll. I’d understood for a while, of course, that I couldn’t go around feeling like I was doing primary series until I squared chakrasana away. I just hadn’t decided that it was time to actually do the work. So Celeste decided.

Those practices in Singapore were very chakrasana-centric. She kept an eye on me, and when I flopped through the one after supta padangusthasana, would say, “Well, you’ve got a few more.” Before the post-urdhva dhanurasana paschimottanasana or sirsasana, she’d ask, “Did you do chakrasana?”

So chakrasana’s what I’ve been doing since November. Every single one. It’s been interesting, too. What I have found, as I mentioned, is that my neck and shoulders are very resistant to the roll. Not in an injury sort of way — more in a stubborn, I don’t like this kind of way. Chakrasana was really the last hold out of my relationship with primary. I learned the asana, I learned the vinyasas: correct breathing, correct driste, yada, yada. But I was willfully thoughtless about chakrasana.

‘Til Singapore.

So now I do my dutiful chakrasanas. And they are coming together. Interestingly, chakrasana has taught me a lot about my relationship with urdhva padmasana, which is a pose I’ve always struggled with. Look at the picture. It’s all about getting into the traps. Oh, and I always feel like my butt is pulling me out of balance. How amusing is it that the sense that I have of being too big-butted for the pose is actually all about the tensions I hold in my shoulders/traps? Consciousness gets so turned around in a body! All those years (perhaps lifetimes) of beliefs about physical reality.

Anyhow, all of the finishing poses now speak to me about the tensions I keep in my traps. Courtesy of what I’ve learned in chakrasana. I can’t say I love this lesson, but I think I will be transformed once it’s done. How weird is it that some day I’ll look back and remember the decades I spent with my shoulders and traps tensed up? Ashtanga really does provide a way into the long view.

So for now I muddle through my chakrasanas using a pad to raise my shoulders. Yesterday I understood the little “pop” of the bandhas that launches/coordinates the roll. I don’t love it now, but I think I’ll really like chakrasana in the future.


12 Responses

  1. i know i comment ed about this before but i can’t remember if it was on your blog or not. i used to be down right terrified of chakrasana. everytime i would try it i would hurt my neck and it would be a month or two before i could try it again, and hurt myself again. then i started pushing myself over. so i would rockback like halasana and place my hands where they needed to be and then push and push untill i was able to lift myself up and over. eventually it became mostly easy to push myself over and so one day i decided to just go for it in the more active way and i flung myself right over without a problem. mind you, it is not pretty, and i still need to take an extra breath to psych myself up, but i have not hurt myself since doing it this way. and some days when i just for whatever reason have too much fear to roll into it, i can still push myself over.
    anyways, that is my story, i would be intrigued to know if it might work for you.

  2. I’ll give it a go. I am not a great pusher-upper in chakrasana, because my shoulders are tight and it’s hard for me to get my hands back enough to really push off. When you “go for it,” are you rolling up a bit (into a more sitting position) and then rolling back? Or starting from lying flat? Just curious. I’ve been starting from flat and then inhaling the legs up and over. So not much in the way of momentum, compared to the sitting up then rolling back method. Both Celeste and Annie nixed the sitting up way, though, so I feel bound to keep working it from lying down.

    No matter what, it’s one of those things that will happen some day, given enough practice. At the workshop, it was funny, because Annie made sure people had room behind them. “Just in case,” she said, “it works.”

  3. lying flat. absolutely. sitting up felt like it gave me extra needed momentum but it always hurt my neck more. i find lately that the real momentum comes from…drum roll…the bandhas…yes…as the hips head over the shoulders. there is an inner tug that i feel pull me right over. i think the prep of pushing over will help open the shoulders, you might not be able to push over for a little bit, but working on it will help. for me it was a strength issue. i had to build the strength to get over. both in the shoulders and the bandhas. let us know how things go!

  4. I think you’ll like it, too. šŸ™‚

    I struggled with chakrasana because, like Cranky, I was afraid to hurt my neck. I agree with lying down. Now I roll back and over real slowly (so that I can make sure my hands are planted), but in the beginning I had to be flat on my back, then bring my feet over, plant my hands and push hard. Slow motion.

    I know I’m not supposed to say this, but I don’t concentrate on the bandhas in this pose. I guess I should. It seems to help to exhale as I roll back and inhale as I push hard with my hands and go over. One of the reasons this pose was not natural for me, I think, is that my hands do not easily come flat to the floor beside my head, so I have to really concentrate on pushing, otherwise, there’s too much pressure on my neck.

    I don’t know if this helps at all.Ā .Ā .Ā .

  5. Very similar motion to being in bottom closed guard in brazilian jiu jitsu with a larger, stronger opponent trying to stack you up to pass. I demonstrated this to DZM, but I don’t believe she liked it …

  6. Your demonstrations of how jiu jitsu is like yoga are SCARY! In yoga, during adjustments, the teacher isn’t trying to flip you! LOL!

    I have the same issue with getting my hands back and on the floor, Gartenbyrd (I like that… Gartenbyrd…) Anyhow, I am hoping that the persistent practice will resolve the tightness that makes the asana so challenging. Ultimately, practice always balances everything out, it seems.

  7. Here’s a short piece by Tim Miller. It’s pretty basic, don’t know if it’ll help.

    I wonder if you should be listening to that cop? It sounds like he’ll have you doing something very strange. šŸ˜‰

  8. i have no idea what the cop just said but there is a bunch of guys who practice brazilian jiu jitsu in the room next to the room i teach yoga in on monday night. they make a lot of grunting noises.

  9. LOL! I am his jiu jitsu practice dummy. Unfortunately, I am too small and flexible to stand in for his usual opponents. Plus, I scream like a girl when I get scared.

    Jiu jitsu is actually quite cool. I do prefer yoga, though. I find my own ego enough of an opponent. šŸ˜‰

  10. OK, this is just not computing for me. If you can do UD and Shoulderstand, then you can do Chakrasana. Simple as that. You just don’t have the mechanics down. If this has been said already, sorry, but here goes: you need to try it with your legs spread wide and NO ponytail in the hair. With the legs spread wide, you will be unable to roll to either side. Let this eliminate all traces of fear. Then roll over without any strength and JUST using momentum, like a backward somersault, only with legs straddled. GRADUALLY, over time, you will eliminate all momentum until you can finally push up with your hands and go over. Trust me. No one has shoulders as tight as mine. At least not you. This is not about our shoulders. It is about fear and mechanics.

  11. 2nd the not computing. i’m intrigued and puzzled, and also blessed with tight shoulders. are you really really tucking your chin and activating the lower abs to start, so that you have plenty of room to protect your neck, plant your hands and push, and control momentum with hips? planting your hands doesn’t take much shoulder flexibility- probably easier than putting hair in a ponytail. just try it sitting- look down, push hands up. i swear it’s not much different, and i suck at kapo fwiw- darn shoulders. seems to be mechanics. reminds me of my supta k difficulty despite having fairly flexible legs- something in me is not computing on that one, maybe i just don’t want to bunch up like that lol. although to be honest, i think at some point height is a factor in which poses are freebies and which are conundrums.

  12. Hi Karen
    This is a helpful discussion and like Tova I may have responded about my experience. It’s good to know that the teachers don’t recommend doing chakrasana from sitting. That is my way of doing it when doing it from lifting is not getting me over in the roll. Like Tova, I tend to hurt my neck more that way because there is a moment you hit your head against the mat and then your weight rolls over onto your head. From the legs on the floor way, which I did correctly for 2 years, I forget to engage the bandhas. 6 months ago I must have had a slight injury to the neck so I was not doing the transition correctly and now I’ve been avoiding it. When Leigha was here, she had me try with the blanket and then instructed me to shoot the feet way far and quickly once rolled over, to fall onto chaturanga. Actually being able to land into chaturanga immediately made the pose be a huge amount of fun. When I first saw two teachers do the roll back and land in chaturanga all within the space of 5 seconds, I did a double take and wondered how the heck they did that.
    Cheers, Arturo

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