Yoga, yoga, yoga (advanced, painful & ustrasana)

Owl has a great post about advanced practice. Self-sufficiency is certainly a hallmark, so it’s interesting to think about the business, and resulting commodification, of “advanced” yoga practice.

Reminded me that I recently filled out a survey sent out by a local yoga studio’s owner. VBG had been teaching there, before his current trip to India. Apparently he decided he wouldn’t be returning, but will be seeking out new digs.

In the meantime, the owner sent out a survey to the Ashtangis, asking if there were particular hours we’d like to see classes; if we’d practice there once VBG is back and, presumably, teaching elsewhere; whether we’d take classes in any other styles.

I was honest: only class hours I’m interested in are Mysore in the morning; no, I won’t practice there if VBG is in another location, and no, I won’t take classes in any other styles. I imagine the other Ashtangis replied similarly. All Ashtanga came off the schedule. She sent us a note inviting us to try other classes with other teachers at the studio.

I understand what she’s trying to do (run a business) but when she asks us to please visit and share our “beautiful practices” at her studio, it gives me the heebie jeebies. Not entirely sure why.


Bit of a struggle, practicing this morning. I have a weird krink in my upper arm. Can’t tell if it’s the delt, bicep or tricep insertion — all of the insertion points kind of wind around in there, and it’s hard to sort out. The pain is on pushing movements, so that would suggest tricep or delt, but it’s on the front of the arm, between the delt and bicep, so that makes me wonder about the bicep.

And then there’s the whole issue of how referred pain from the shoulder can make it feel like the pain is in a different place from where the problem actually lies… Sigh.

It’s a common pain, this one, at least to weight lifters: it’s the pain where the bicep and delt meet, and it hurts like hell when you do bench presses.

Anyhow, I recognized it was there from the very first down dog. Tried kind of leaning into it a bit throughout all of primary. Hoping whatever was out of alignment would soften up and readjust.

First four urdhva dhanurasanas were pretty significantly compromised by the pain. On the up side, it forced me to put more into my legs, to make up for only really being able to use one arm. That’s got to be good for leg strength, core strength and balance…

I hung off the Iyengar ropes for a bit, trying, again, to pop everything back into place. Then some gomukhasana. Then some kneeling with my elbows on a chair seat to try to stretch it out.

That was the extent of my rehab, and I was figuring I’d knock off there and give it a rest, when the desire to stretch out into a strong backbend was just too irresistable — I missed the stretched ribcage feeling! I had to give it another try.

Not sure what the deal was — if I “fixed” the problem or just got warm enough that I couldn’t feel the pain, but I had a couple of really terrific urdhva dhanurasanas.

Interesting how that automatically switched practice from “hurt and had to give up in defeat,” to “worked it through and had a terrific practice.” It’s a fine line.



I have been having some thoughts on ustrasana for the forward bender. Ustrasana is nothing for natural backbenders, I imagine. But I come to the pose as a forward bender. And it struck me today that I always thought the pose essentially an arch that was supported by the contraction of the butt/hamstrings and the thoracic spine.

Figure you take a forward bender and put them through a couple/few years of primary. Everything is about adjusting the hammies and scooting around with the thoracic spine to get more extension.

Then hand the person ustrasana. Surely you support the pose from underneath, by a contraction of the hamstrings/butt and thoracic spine — pushing up with a contraction into these areas, no?

Well, no.

In fact, ustrasana is a kind of suspension bridge. Push the hips forward and then release, release, release the butt and hammies. The pose then suspends from the hip flexors. And release, release, release the thoracic spine: the pose suspends from the poas, which ties in at the T12. But where you can really feel the suspension is through the lower ribs. So it feel like you are suspended thusly.

This suspension thing is really important for me to feel. It was very scary at first to let go of the contraction in the butt and hamstrings — I felt like I would injure myself if I didn’t push the pose up from underneath.

Turns out, though, the forward motion of the thighs/hips unfurls the psoas, which is super strong, and able to hold the suspension bridge of the upper body no problem. Here’s my picture: the forward motion is the yellow line, and the arc of the psoas is the red line.

Obviously, I am still reading my visual thinking book. 🙂


Credit where credit it due: My picture of ustrasana comes from Arjuna’s terrific site.


5 Responses

  1. Heebie-jeebies, check.

    When it does happen, I like it when ashtangis just say “Hey man, it’s not me. It’s the method.”

  2. Yes, that does seem like an odd thing for her to say. Like are you supposed to pop into the vinyasa class and inspire everyone to become more ‘advanced’ because you’re an ashtangi? I don’t get it.

    I LOVE your ustrasana writeup. Food for thought, for sure. Hands down my favorite asana, and I’m a forward-bender also.

  3. “I understand what she’s trying to do (run a business) but when she asks us to please visit and share our “beautiful practices” at her studio, it gives me the heebie jeebies. Not entirely sure why.”

    Dude I know what you mean. As a yoga teacher, I hear this kind of fluff all the time and it drives me crazy. I’ve had studios not pay me for classes/delay payment with excuses that sound like that or they tell me that I should be teaching “to share the practice” as they collect $$ from students. The best though was when a class got cancelled (I wasn’t going to show up to teach for free) and then instead of notifying students it was cancelled, the management said the only thing they could do was a puja. Seriously!

  4. Oh my gosh, the puja story is both hilarious and awful.

    I’m thinking the compliments on practices freak me out because they are objectifying the practice — it sounds kind of overblown maybe, but the practice is the practice, and the interesting/yogic/meaningful stuff is what happens on the *inside* — not what it looks like on the outside.

  5. you’re totally right! it is weird when someone says something like that. its like okay would i still have a beautiful practice even if I couldn’t do this? would you still like it then? its silly! obviously she didn’t notice that you all aren’t obsessed with the poses, but instead, dedicated to the practice…

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