I have chosen Ustrasana as my talking point for this blog post. While this pose is a popular backbend many yoga teachers choose to incorporate into their asana sequences, the technique of entering this pose is often overlooked. The pointers that are usually given are to backbend so that you grab your heels, not to “jam” into your lower back, and to keep your chest “shining” to the ceiling. When I was a newbie to yoga with little to no body awareness, and having a weakened spine on account of a major spinal surgery many years ago, I was then in two minds whether I should even attempt the pose. Unfortunately (for me), santosha was not a part of my practice then. As a result, Ustrasana was always difficult (and painful) to hold.
This changed when I attended a class several years ago when (apparently) everyone was making the same mistake as me. The teacher (whose name escapes me) decided that she would stop her sequence and spend time teaching the technique of entering the pose. She offered several options for all of us to try, and the version elaborated below has been incorporated into my practice ever since.
(A) Stand in front of a wall, such that you are facing the wall.
(B) Come onto your knees, toes tucked under. Your knees should be hip width distance apart, and placed at the wall. Place your hands on your hips, keeping your spine straight.
(C) Activate your core and quads, then lean back whilst keeping your spine straight. Your body should be like a plane leaning backwards from your knees. Your core and quads are keeping you from falling.
(D) Once you have leaned back, stretch your right hand upwards and backwards such that you grab on to your right heel.
(E) Do the same for the left arm so that it grabs on to the left heel.
(F) Once both hands grab on to your heels, push the hips forward towards the wall. The objective is for both the thighs to come into contact with the wall, hips above your knees.
(G) Lift your sternum so that it shines to the ceiling. Feel as though a string is attached to the sternum and is pulling you upwards.
(H) Take 5 breaths in the pose. With each inhale, puff your chest upwards ; and with each exhale, soften allow the chest to soften and open.
(I) To exit the pose, you go out the way you came in. Therefore, lean back once again, and rotate the right hand from the heel to point to the ceiling. Then place your right hand on your hips.
(J) Do the same for the left arm.
(K) With an exhale, gently return to a kneeling position.
Hopefully this serves as a (better) alternative way of getting into the pose!