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urdhva dhanurasana

When I was a kid I was in gymnastics.  I don't say that to illustrate how flexible I am.  I was kid flexible.  I could do all the stuff that kids can do.  Then I hit puberty and grew boobs and hips and that was the end of my gymnastics and my bendiness.

One of the tricks we did in gymnastics was what we yogis call wheel or urdhva dhanurasana.  Back then we called it bridge.  Bridge was just one of those things that I could do as a kid.  I could drop back into it from standing.  I could easily bring myself back to standing.  I could do a handstand and walk over into it.

I haven't done that pose for two years now.  Because it was something that I had always done as a kid, I thought it could be part of my yoga practice.  And it was for awhile.  Maybe teachers didn't want to discourage me, but I wasn't actually doing the pose.

At my teacher training I worked on the pose a bit with my teachers.  It was after we had done an entire day on backbending.  I could no longer drop back, although I had been doing that in my practice.  And, once I was "in" the pose, it just felt wrong.  Maybe it was my new knowledge of anatomy and backbending.  But my back was not the beautiful arch.  It was severe and cranked.  Other students commented on it.  

I was devastated.  I felt so defeated.  Teacher trainings are intense anyway.  This was not the first pose that I found out I was doing "wrong" (hmm...by wrong I mean not really getting it).  And I was just emotional at that point after doing backbends all day.  My heart felt exposed and raw and all that giddy energy from being so open just flooded out of me.  It was like coming down after a caffeine high.  Just a wall.

After my teacher training I just thought, well we are all built differently and this might be a pose that I just cannot do.  Then I started breaking it down.  My shoulders are extremely tight.   My hips are unbelievably tight.  So, I changed my practice.  It was no longer about getting into the impossible pose.  I made it about actually feeling and noticing the changes in my body.

I added all the things from my yoga salt post into my daily practice:  baby cobras to strengthen the back, lunges and crescents to open the hips, chest openers to open the heart, and lots of shoulder work to loosen up.

I have been working on these things for two years.  One thing every day.  Or all things about four days a week.  I actually forgot what it was I was working toward.  Turns out that I WAS ENJOYING THE JOURNEY.  Instead of discovering how to work toward that impossible pose, I discovered the heart of my practice.  

Yesterday I woke up and out of the blue, before I even got out of bed, I thought about urdhva dhanurasana for the first time in two years.  I didn't wonder if I could do it.  I didn't wonder about if all my hard work had paid off.  I thought about some of the ashtanga yoga blogs I read.  How they talk about drop backs and doing so many wheels in a practice...I can't tell you exactly what I thought about my practice and my wheel, but it was akin to a sigh.  A surrender.

I went to my favorite class last night.  My once a week class with my amazing teacher Kelly.  She said we would be working on backbends.  I didn't even think about it.  But, when she had us put blocks against the wall and straps on our elbows and then demonstrated a modified wheel...I honestly felt the very first surge of fear that I have ever felt in my practice.  I'm usually willing to try anything.  To work toward anything.  

I sat there and watched my fellow students with this ugly thing knotting in my belly.  I wanted to run out of the room.  I wanted to not try.  

But, I did try.

I got down on my back.  Put my hands on the blocks.  Breathed deeply into my belly.  Used my exhale to calm myself.  And then I pushed up.  But it didn't feel like pushing up.  It literally felt like I was pulled up from the heart center.  There was no crank in my low back.  My shoulders weren't screaming.  I kept lifting higher and higher.

And the tears started streaming down my face.  Literally dripping onto my mat.  

Holy shit.Photo by Gosia Janick. Click for link.

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Reader Comments (18)

Beautiful, Babs. What a discovery!

What a beautiful and moving story. Thanks so much for sharing it! It's a timely reminder that the heart of yoga is found in the journey, not the asana. Namaste.

March 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaivalya

We used to call it crab at school. I couldn't do it then either.

Backbends make me cry sometimes, and they don't even have to be strong ones.

Thank you for sharing your lovely story.

Oh that is awesome! You have worked so hard and probably can do much more than you think. This post made me smile!

March 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJessi

Such a beautiful and inspiring post, thank you for sharing!

March 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEmmanuelle

COOL!!!! YAY!!!!!! I'm so happy for you!

I also have decided that just because I can get my head off the floor in wheel, it feels wrong and maybe I should work on other things. This post was SO inspirational- and justified my gut feeling.

I need to work on my shoulders and upper chest first :)

Thank you so very much Babs.


March 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEcoYogini

Yay, Babs! How awesome for you. And you're right, it is about the journey! What a discovery ;-)

March 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHeather

Misanthropic--thank you!

Kaivalya--it was a nice reminder to me, too!

Rachel--backbends make me wanna cry to. And they make me giddy. I have to do a lot of forward bending after backbends to bring myself back down.

Jessi--thanks! Have you been going to classes?

Emmanuelle--thanks for your lovely comment!

Eco--thank you! I was pretty excited and humbled at the same time. It gives me hope that I can work toward other "impossible" poses like handstand!

Heather--thanks for the lovely comment, as always :D

March 11, 2010 | Registered CommenterBabs

Yay! How great to feel a sense of progress : )

March 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

I read your post last night and today I decided that I wanted to read it again...thank you for sharing this story with us.

March 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPrinci

Wow. It is always intimidating to share a post like this. Thanks for all the wonderful comments!

March 12, 2010 | Registered CommenterBabs

I'm swamped this month with no time to blog surf, but I decided to click on my bookmarked yoga blogs and found this post. I was rapt and read the whole thing. Thanks for sharing this story. Yoga is about transformation, physical and mental, and you've illustrated that here.

Regarding urdhva dhanurasana: It IS a pose that we all probably did or could've done as kids, but to do it "right" and not overarch in the lumbar spine does take more awareness and work. I like how you analyzed your own body and took it step by step. Hanumanasana is another pose that we might have done or approached as kids--but were our hips square and grounded or diagonally askew (so much easier that way!).

To work on the details and eventually find a pose is indeed rewarding--and I guess that's one reason (among MANY) that we practice asana and study yoga.

March 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterYogaSpy

What a beautiful post Babs. Sometimes we are heading somewhere and we don't even know it until we get there. :)

March 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLaGitane

Yoga Spy--thank you for the thoughtful comment. You are right, transformation is why I practice asana. And, it usually happens when you least expect it!

La Gitane--exactly!

March 15, 2010 | Registered CommenterBabs

What a beautiful story. I'm so thankful to eco yogini for her well-deserved praise in her recent blog.

Thank you.

Bob Weisenberg

March 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBob Weisenberg

I found this post through EcoYogini and she was right - it is amazingly inspiring! I have so many poses that I just *can't* do. This one I can only hold for a moment, and can only do it when I feel really strong. Add to my "can't do" list: head stand, hand stand, crow, and even chataranga. Years of work, and still...nothing.

But I think in my discouragement, I lost the joy of the practice. This post is encouraging me to get back to basics and let go of the striving.


March 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterA Green Spell

Bob and Greenspell--that Eco Yogini just melts my heart! I'm very glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for visiting!

March 30, 2010 | Registered CommenterBabs

I was looking in internet if somebody could help me to do this posture, because I really can't do it. Please give me a clue. Thank you Cindy

November 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCindy

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