Friday, June 10, 2011

Standing Forehead to Knee...left side....check!

We all know which side of our body is stronger, more balanced, or more flexible (sometimes that means the same thing), but yoga can make it more obvious. There are many different styles of yoga but I've been practicing Bikrams yoga for over 4 years now. I found that most yoga practitioners either love or hate Bikrams. I can appreciate both attitudes.....weird you might think? Well, knowing what I know about the skill of strength, balance and stretching I know Bikrams leaves a lot to be desired. But because I know how to coach myself I have made great gains in this style.....also this particular practice suits my strengths and it's easy for me!

I've tried other styles, in fact just this past year I cut my Bikrams practice of 6-7 classes per weekin half substituting Vinyasa and Iyengar classes. I liked both the the others for different reasons, and I hope to go back to splitting my practice to include at least 2 classes a week of the other styles. But Bikrams is extremely popular in my area and I can choose from 5 times as many class times as any other practice. The studio I'm going to now offers about 40 classes per week, and I have at least 4 other local studios to choose from if for some crazy reason I can't make it there! To compare, there is only one Iyengar studio with a very limited class schedule.

Anyway..... one of the things about Bikrams that used to bug the crap out of me was that every pose started on the same side of the body....and you don't have a choice which side starts first. I always felt that after I used some of my strength and endurance on one side I had less strength and endurance on the other! How was I ever going to match them up if I always started with my stronger side?

To top it off, most of the teachers hold the first part of each posture longer than the second part. Seriously. Most of the teachers get so caught up in delivering the dialogue (the instructions) in the first half pose they hold it easily 20-30% longer. So there I am, holding a pose longer on my stronger problem....and then I have to try and do it on my weaker side and I'm tuckered out at this point....I don't have much left!

This is especially true in "Standing Head to Knee". Standing head to knee is a difficult posture to begin with, it could take weeks if not months to simply stay in the first part of the pose for 1 full minute (picture 1 above). At the point that you are strong enough to kick your leg out parallel (picture 2 above), it could take weeks and months to bend your elbows down to your knees (picture 3 above).

Now here's the tricky part.... Once you get your elbows down around your calves, tuck your chin to your chest and touch your forehead to your knee! (picture 4 to left) Hold it there for at least 10 seconds, usually longer. Oh, and then come out of the pose exactly how you went into it! head up, straighten your arms (picture 5 to left), bend your knee, stand up.....whoops!(pictures 6 and 7 below, lol)

I've been able to the pose on my right side for a long, long time, but my left side has eluded me. I hadn't even been close for months after I got it on my right side, maybe even a year, until....

Last year I was lucky enough to watch my brilliant husband Mark teach the handstand skill at Hardstyle Ventura. Learning about handstands helped my Standing Head to Knee? Yep, here's how.

I learned about "stacking". To practice standing on your hands you have to stack your shoulders above your hands, then stack your hips above your shoulders and then up go your legs "stacked" above your hips. What does this have to do with my yoga pose? Well, it demonstrated to me how to identify the part of the pose that's the "trick". "Stacking" is part of the trick of balance!

I applied this to many parts of my yoga practice, but here's how it helped me in this pose. By looking in the mirror I could see how I wasn't stacking my the weight of my body over my one support, my right leg! So I shifted over slightly and viola`. That was enough to get me balanced with my head up. Now to tuck my chin to my chest and balance without looking forward.

Think it's not that hard? Well, stand on one leg, nothing too difficult, and then close your eyes! Ah....different story eh?

So, the next challenge, the "head to knee" part. This was hit and miss for the past year. Lots of times I would blame it on the fact that the teacher held me in the first part of the posture twice as long not leaving me with much for the second, more difficult half....and let me tell you I get pissed when that happens....anyway.... I think I finally put all the pieces of the puzzle, "the trick" together!

Now I had the balance, all I had left was to stay in that 'sweet spot' and build my strength endurance. I visualize my standing leg to be as solid as a tree trunk with roots growing down into the earth....and here's the really cool part that made all the difference....I also visualize the leg that's kicking out as a horizontal tree trunk with roots growing into the mirror in front of me keeping me solid horizontally and vertically. I'm rooting in both directions.....aren't I smart?

Sure there are a few other little things but for the most part I think I can check this posture off the list.


Maribel said...

omg...Standing Head to Knee and Triangle are my worst ever postures. Maybe after 4 years I'll get it.

Tracy Reifkind said...


I've seen your triangle and I don't know what you are talking about it looks great!

As far as "standing head to knee", can you imagine if you didn't start training KB's? Strength and cardio endurance help greatly while trying to do this pose in 120 degree heat!

I have to say that I don't like the way Bikram Instructors teach this pose. They have little comprehension about proper progressions which is why most students have little success and it will take them even longer to get strong enough to move through the all of the stages of this posture....but that's just my opinion!