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Dropbacks and Standing Up

urdhva dhanurasana dropback

My Dropback Notes

Ah dropbacks, what a long and winding road it has been. Well over a year since I started practising drop backs into Urdhva Dhanurasana in earnest preparation for my transition into Ashtanga intermediate series, I still feel (almost) as inept now as I did when I first started. It brings out all that emotional dirty laundry, fear being one of the foremost.

Upon completing the primary series in Ashtanga yoga, the aspiring Ashtanga yogi/ni is required to master the drop back into Urdhva Dhanurasana, after which s/he must stand back up again, before moving on the intermediate series. While I’d be hard pressed to say that I’ve mastered it, I can at least say that I can do it (most of the time).

To make matters all the more complicated, the two teachers helping me with this most frustrating of asanas, have conflicting opinions concerning whether one should lift the heels or splay out the feet to compensate for various shortcomings, one being a lack of hip flexor length. My solution to the matter is to do neither when assisted, and bow to the advice of my Ashtanga teacher who advocates (limited) splaying of the feet, when practicing unassisted.

Sadly, all the notes in the world aren’t going to replace the body memory of actually doing it, again and again, ad (hopefully not) nauseum. However, as with most things, practising bad patterns is only going to make those patterns more difficult to dispel once they’ve become ingrained into your practice. My advice is to start practising good patterns from the get-go. That way, even though mastery may take longer, getting rid of those nasty patterns will be less of an issue.

I have compiled a list of dropback notes gathered from various teachers who’ve helped me and from various instructional videos that I’ve watched, so here goes:

General

  • Think in terms of backwards and forwards rather than up and down.
  • Remain fully present throughout – I tend to switch off halfway down and crash down.
  • Relax throughout – tension in the buttocks, lower back and shoulders is counter-productive.
  • Feet parallel, about hip width.
  • Activate mula and uddiyana bandha.
  • Connect the feet through the legs to the bandhas.
  • Flatten the ribs.
  • Roll the thighs inwards and press firmly into the heels.
  • Avoid splaying the feet out or lifting the heels.

Preparation

  • Start on an inhalation.
  • Press the insides of the feet firmly into the ground.
  • Lift the arms into urdhva namaskarasana and lengthen the spine.
  • Push actively into the chest and look up.

Dropping Back

  • An exhalation initiates the dropback.
  • Start bending from the upper spine.
  • Move the pelvis way forward.
  • Keep knees as straight as possible for as long as possible.
  • Spread the hands to about shoulder width to prepare for landing.
  • Bend the knees in a controlled manner to land on the floor.
  • Land with the fingertips first.

Urdhva Dhanurasana

  • Walk the hands and feet in as much as possible.
  • Counteract the tendency to turn out the feet and thighs by internally rotating the femurs to find a neutral position.
  • Ground all four corners of the feet equally.
  • Avoid pushing into the lower back – engage the abdominal muscles (obliques, rectus and transverse abdominis) to support and protect the lower back.
  • Take a few breaths rocking backwards towards your head on an exhalation, and forwards towards your feet on an inhalation.

Standing Up

  • Look at a point on the floor as close to your feet as possible and keep looking at it while coming up.
  • Lift onto cupped fingertips.
  • Initiate standing up on an inhalation rocking forwards towards your feet.
  • Push strongly into the heels coming back up.
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