Last night at the hatha yoga class at Thrive, we were working towards handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana), Peacock (Pincha Mayurasana) and other inversions. I’ve learned that I can get into a handstand if I don’t think about it too much. Last night, my head was in overdrive so I only made it up once in eight tries. Not too good.
What I did right was slow down and try to understand why it was so hard for me. I have always had tight shoulders and that was the easy explanation, but feel short of allowing me to visualize what was happening. I tried to see myself with my eyes closed going through the prep from down dog pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana) and then the kick up. I saw that my shoulders were locking up well before getting vertical. That meant that my legs were always going to be 10-25 degrees off from vertical. The only way I could get into handstand was my throwing my butt into the wall.
I had this image of fighting against myself, like arm wrestling: between gravity and my own resistance, I was bound to lose. I also sensed that it was more than just inadequate arm position. My whole rib cage was tightening up, and that was hampering my breathing. No wonder I found myself fighting to regain my breath after a half dozen attempts to kick up.
This new awareness also confirms something else: under stress, my shoulders tend to hunch up, a type of shrug in which my neck gets shorter as my rib cage rides up my spine.
Another curious angle is that in wheel pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana), which also requires a broadened chest, loose shoulders and arms shutting up (down, really) by the ears, I don’t have an issue with getting locked in a compromised position, after five years of struggles. I think I am aided by the nature of the pose, which requires me to arch against the muscular tension in my chest, shoulders and back.
Note: the photo above is from a Rumbaugh workshop at Thrive in January 2009, not last night’s class.