Aug 15, 2012

Strong Shoulders and the 'Imagination Bandha'

Sean Connery spotting Ursula Andress in a
handstand on the set of Dr. No, 1962,
(Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
I recently took a 3-hour "Inversion Immersion" workshop with David Regelin at Back Bay Yoga. Three hours is a long time to practice inversions. Of course, it would have been lovely to walk away from it suddenly able to float into handstand in the middle of the room, but the yoga path is rarely so direct. What I learned, instead, was how to improve my downdog.

Regelin is cerebral and super-articulate with a fine-tuned understanding of anatomy—both of the gross/physical body, and the subtle/energetic one. I've taken several classes with him at this point, and one of the most thought-provoking things he has to say is that imagination is more or less at the center of any serious yoga practice. He essentially treats it like another sort of bandha (energy lock).


Throughout the workshop, Regelin had us gather around individual students as he adjusted them in order to help them better enter handstand from downdog. The student example that struck me the most was that of a woman who put too much weight and compression into her shoulder girdle in downdog. This is something I know I do—not a lot but enough to be a problem. Pointing to the student's shoulders, Regelin said the telltale sign of shoulder compression is creasing in the skin.

 "Creases are bad. Round shoulders are good shoulders—if you're a mother, you know that. To get rid of the creases, wrap your shoulder blades down your back and hollow out the armpits."

He then gave the woman's upper arms an external rotation, which made the creases disappear and transformed her whole downdog into something longer, stronger. Her next hop up into handstand seemed far more stable.

After the workshop, I asked my husband to take some pictures of me in downdog so I could see what sort of creasing is actually going on:

Exaggerating the issue—clearly compressed 
shoulders (I don't actually normally do down dog 
this way—it hurts!)
My normal downdog—pretty deep creases, but 
at least myshoulders are not up by my ears 
anymore and the wholething seems wider.
Shoulder blades wrapped to the sides, more 
"hollow" armpits. Still creasing, but less deeply 
& everything is a bit broader.  Honestly, I don't 
think I could wrap much  more without stressing 
the rotator cuffs. But this looks a lot more viable
 for coming up into handstand.
Even though free-standing handstand still feels fairly inaccessible, my improved downdog can only help me reach that goal. In any case, the price of admission was worth it for that one line, "Round shoulders are good shoulders—if you're a mother, you know that." It made the whole "wrapping the shoulders" and "hollowing out the armpits" thing (which I've heard a million times before but for some reason have never really gotten) suddenly make perfect sense. I only had to think of my own children to understand. I suppose that's the "imagination bandha" at work.

Narrow, compressed shoulders = unstable. You couldn't possibly give anybody a piggyback ride, or a decent shoulder to lean on.

Broad, round shoulders = stable. Good for piggyback rides, head resting, hugs.

"Mother's Shoulders," soapstone sculpture,
by Camille Iquliq



Frances@Lila said...

welcome to the cyber-shala. i'm blog is lila.
check it out.
i'll add you to my blogroll.
great post...loved how you showed the visual of the different shoulder positions for downdog...very instructive.
i totally know what you mean about hearing an instruction a zillion times and then one day it totally clicks and you actually "get it".
it's amazing when that happens....a shift from intellectually understanding (jnana) to experiential understanding (vijnana)...powerful stuff.

Kim Adrian said...

How exciting—the cyber-shala...exactly what I've been hoping to find. Thanks for the blogroll addition—your lovely blog is on mine as well. I want to try that bread. I have a good beet-carrot recipe of a different sort that I'll try to put up someday—it's with soba noodles, olive oil, walnuts, parm. cheese (skippable), and parsely.
sat nam.

Frances@Lila said...

Great! Thanks for adding me.
That sounds like a super interesting recipe. Would love to check it out.
Blessings! Sat Nam.