Reflections: Crim Week 2008

Have I turned my daily practice into an austerity?

I can be stubborn and grim, and — think about it — what better way to set yourself down the road to austerity?

In the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (the first sermon the Buddha gave after enlightenment), he taught that seekers of truth must avoid two extremes —- that of the path of sensual pleasure, and that of extreme penance or austerity.

It used to be that sensual pleasure was easiest for me — Of course it was! I went to art school! In a major city! In the seventies! 🙂 Now, though, austerity is the easier road. Why? Because I saw the limits of sensual pleasure, and — I guess, not surprisingly — overcorrected.


Did a prop-heavy inquiry-based little practice as Tyler napped. Based on Donna Farhi’s book, Yoga Mind, Body & Spirit. Deep savasana kind of trance mind throughout pretty much the whole sequence.

Realized: been bending the thoracic too low, been too “empty” in uddiyana bandha.

I am a bottom-rib projector: I love that feeling, where the bottom of the ribs feel like they’ve come loose from the rest of the torso. It’s easy to over-do (at least for me) when messing around with uddiyana bandha.

I’ve always been a little mystified by uddiyana bandha. It seems like the exact opposite of the kind of intra-abdominal pressure one uses to stabilize the spine during weightlifting.

This morning, backbending through a chair onto bolsters, it finally dawned on me that uddiyana in backbends isn’t an “either/or” situation. Not either the lower-rib expanding emptiness of what I was thinking of as uddiyana bandha OR the intra-abdominal pressure (stabilizing, but also a strong static compression) of weightlifting. Nope. What I need is the lengthening, empty expansion in conjunction with a pulling-the-lower-ribs-down to engage the rectus abdominis.

The pressure of the weightlifting “bandha” engages the lower back and obliques. The empty-uddiyana-with-pulled-down-ribs engages the front of the body.

If this doesn’t make sense to you, forget about it. You’re probably already doing it right.

Me? I had a stabilizing strategy for weightlifting (practiced daily, for decades), which didn’t work in backbends. So I threw it out and didn’t use any stabilization (just pure abandon) as a strategy for moving more into backbends. Abandon and a whole lot of pushing myself.

Yeah. Not a great plan.

Another example of how I tend to be all-or-nothing — all black-or-white.

In truth, though, I think I am actually quite adept at avoiding black-and-white thinking in my day to day projects and in interactions with other people. Where it falls down is when I try to apply it to myself.

So the physical practice helps sort it out. Though painfully, occasionally…


4 Responses

  1. Such good findings re: obliques, back muscles, and especially floating ribs and rectus-abdominus. I think it *is* good to tease this stuff apart in sensation if not words. I’m interested that the words you use translate easily to me. I too have read that book, but I’m not sure it’s the commonality here. The commonality is in the body.

    Bring the floating ribs in to protect the low back. Some students learn to initiate u.b. from that action as well. A v good route in.

  2. I relate to the evolution of backbending that you describe in your post. I used to hurl myself into backbends, too. Perhaps because I knew I could (did gymnastics as a kid), perhaps to get them over with. Two things have dramatically changed my backbends this year and, perhaps relevant to your recent posts, taken some tension/pain/sensation out of my piriformis. The first was learning to unclench my butt and “spiral” my thighs inward (learned this from an anusara teacher, of course) — I think you talked about this in a post a few months back. I found this made my quads work harder (and took the effort out of the small muscles in my back). The second, more recent, has been to go half-way up into UD, relax and re-engage uddiyana bandha and mula bandha, then complete the backbend. This seems to move the curvature higher up my back, so it feels like less of a crease in my lower back. This has also made my drop backs and come-ups much more controlled and made me dread backbending much less!

    Re-reading what you said about UB, I too am a rib-sticker-outer, but I feel like the muscles of what I call uddiyana bandha engagement in my body are lower abdominal muscles compared to those I use to pull in my front ribs. Perhaps I’m doing only ardha uddiyana bandha? ha!

    Sorry to ramble on… it’s an interesting exercise to verbalize what happens in one’s body.


  3. Hi Owl,
    The commonality of the body, for sure. I always feel like a dork with a microscope when I write posts like this, but it helps me understand…

    Hey Megan,
    Ardha uddiyana bandha. LOL! Funny, but yeah, I think you’re on to something there. I engage the lower part of my abs, but then flare out my ribcage. Guess that’s why I’ve been okay in the lower back (knock wood!) but running into problems now in the thoracic.

    I really like your halfway into UD, relax, re-engage idea. I’m going to try that.

    And during crim week, when I visit the Anusarans, I will see if I can get some coaching on the spirals of backbends… 🙂

  4. Hi Karen
    It’s great to read Megan’s observations of what is happening anatomically in dropbacks. I’ve also heard it said by teachers to relax the bum muscles, and when the pelvis is moving downward, the leg muscles rotating inward, it is giving power to the legs to bring you up.

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