Recently a student from one of my beginners courses emailed me about jumping in Ashtanga- how is it possible to jump with control, or as we like to call it, to “float”, rather than landing with a rather loud thud and risk breaking a toe?! Here is our exchange, and let me know how your jumps improve!:
Student: I’ve been practising about 5-6 days a week and am definitely feeling stronger and more flexible. My feet are quite sore though and I think it’s because I’m landing too hard when I jump back in the sun salutations. In fact I nearly killled my cat yesterday when she unwisely strolled across the end of my yoga mat just before I landed. I’ve looked on YouTube and in John Scott’s book, I get the impression it’s about applying the bandhas, but I’m not sure if I’m doing it right and I’m finding it incredibly hard to rest my weight on my arms and hands and use the shoulders as pivots.
Me: You need to build up more strength in your core, and trust your arms to support you, keeping the weight in your hands/arms/shoulders rather than transferring it to the rest of your body (hips/legs/feet), which is making your legs heavy. When people talk about bandhas, all they mean really is a state in which your body is in the right place alignment-wise in order to engage all the right muscles (pelvic floor amongst others), for the energy to flow freely. Jumping back is about keeping the weight of your body in your arms and using your core (the core being the whole torso, back muscles as well). The way to engage the core is by drawing the front of the torso in and up towards the spine, so to create a curve and length, like we looked at in Cat Pose last class. Practice some handstands against the wall, to get used to feeling your body weight in your arms. Put a bolster between your head and the wall, so you are not tempted to arch your back by lifting your head up. Start in down dog (hands shoulder width) with your hands about a foot away from the wall, then walk the feet forward on your toes lifting your hips upwards as much as you can. Then step one foot in, and kick the other up. Once you’re up, straighten your arms, move your elbows towards the wall, press your shoulder blades into your ribs, lift shoulders away from ears, let your head hang down, lift your feet and legs up, lift buttocks up towards your heels, move your coccyx into your body (to engage mula bandha). Then practice coming down really slowly, one leg at a time, keeping your hips lifting up as much as possible (so you need to curve the lower back). You start to feel your abs kicking in to control your descent. This is the same action you want when jumping back. Ie, you get to feel how much you need to push down through the hands, and lift up through our core, keeping the legs engaged.
Here are three clips I’ve filmed for beginners, to help with jumping back, forwards, and a handstand exercise to help you build up the technique to float.
A quick note on handstands:
In traditional ashtanga yoga, handstands are taught at the end of second series. This is for a good reason, as you need to have an open enough chest and back in order to bind in various poses in second, so when you’ve got to the end you know you’re definitely strong and open enough for handstands! In Iyengar yoga, handstands are taught to beginners, and are a really important part of the sequence. They are energising, strengthening, increase immune system functioning and circulation, and help students to overcome beliefs around what they think they can and can’t do (very liberating to do something you thought you’d never be able to do!). I love handstands and always encourage students to practice them if they want to, as they are such fun and always make me smile.