Beautiful swan or ugly duckling

“And you’re back on your two feet again”, my Bikram Yoga teacher says upon the completion of Balancing Stick. Here we go! It’s time for the Standing Separate Leg Stretching Pose or what is quite a mouthful in Sanskrit: Dandayamana-Bibhaktapada-Paschimotthanasana. For someone with tight hamstrings and absolutely no pelvic tilt, this is not an easy posture.

The setup is simple enough! We stand at the top of the mat facing the side mirrors. Arms come sideways over the head, palms together. I step more than a metre to the right and at the same time, bring my arms parallel to the floor. My heels are still aligned and my feet slightly pigeon-toed. This is where the fun starts.

The teacher instructs me to suck my stomach in and bend my upper body forward, arms stretching out to sides, chin forward. “Like a swan dive”, he encourages us. I try to be as graceful and elegant as I imagine a swan to be diving into a river. The image seems to be working for me. I feel taller. My legs are straight and knees locked. I breathe effortlessly and calmly. I can grab my heels from the outside, keeping all my five fingers together. I should then roll forward, shift my weight onto the toes, pull my heels and keep my spine straight and touch my forehead onto the floor between the feet. But no, evidently the divine swan has disappeared from my mat. Not even a shadow to be seen. The ugly ducking has taken over.

Suddenly I’m so out of place. I’m the clumsy duckling amongst beautiful swans in Swan Lake. I was never into ballet. The backs of my legs are stretching, but as I try to tilt my hips up to keep my spine straight, stretching my body down, nothing happens. The Hunchback of Notre-Dame has arrived! Why don’t I just force my way through this? My breathing is short, shallow and choppy. Even if I use all my strength pulling my heels, my forehead is not edging any closer to the floor. “There should be no struggle, come back to your breathing”, I hear from a distance. I return to my mat. Let’s see if I can do the second set without an embarrassing appearance on a ballet stage and any impressions of Quasimodo.

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4 thoughts on “Beautiful swan or ugly duckling

  1. I struggle with this posture too. Partially because I’m often pretty wiped from the balancing series and feel like I need just one or two extra breaths to recover. Even though I practice virtually every day I’m always surprised and a little frustrated that my hamstrings stay so tight. Recently I’ve made some improvements here, getting deeper in first set and not waiting till second set to really pull, but its still more from the sides of my feet than from my heels. What’s helped me a little is to include this stretch in pre-class warm ups, gently pulling and trying to loosen up my hammies before class starts. Its helped noticeably. But I still have to work on grabbing my heels. Love the picture you put with this post.

  2. I’ve been practicing this yoga for 15 years, and seem to go through phases with this one. Sometimes it’s there, other times, not so much. I learned a new trick in the posture clinic this weekend; on your way down, stop for a second and check your hips in the mirror. We are human, odds are they are uneven, using the mirror to level them before going all the way down alleviates a lot of the discomfort in this posture and will give you a little more room too.

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