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In a few classes over the last few days, I noticed again how difficult it is for students to move correctly into the standing bow pose without very clear instructions to slow down and enunciate the technique of the posture.
After practicing for a very long time, one might move more swiftly through the right stages to the final pose and then charge the body forward. But most students, in the last twenty years, are moving their body forward at the expense of safe and effective postural alignment.
standing bow pose should go something like this:
Once your foot is in palm of hand, the left arm is stretching up, it is close to side of face with the palm flat, strong flow of energy through the palm of the hand which is facing forward. Then. Start with knees touching side by side. Check this carefully. Hips are forward with the body in as close to a natural standing position as possible with the knees touching side by side in one line from the side.
When you begin kicking against your hand, starting with the right side, the knee should go back in a straight line. Watch the knee and keep it at center line of body. The tendency will be to let the knee open out to the right, increasing the space between the two thighs, to let the hip open out. It’s a natural impulse as you kick back, and you should be encouraged to resist it. Keep the knee of the kicking leg held close to the center line. Practice watching that knee go straight back. All the while the left arm is stretching the whole left side of body. Standing leg is strong, “locked”, of course.
“watch the knee and keep it at center line of body”
Still your upper body is more or less upright. (though inclining forward) Your chest bone (sternum) is lifting and pulled forward toward the mirror, the left arm is long, strong, and stretching to the ceiling right now. Your body is arcing backward, bending the spinal column like the pliable wood of an archer’s bow.
Knee still in center line of body kicking higher. Ensuring that the hips, the sacrum, is level. Right hip is square to the mirror. Keep this shape in spine and take your time moving (arcing) the body forward, the whole shape of this beautiful bow. No one’s spine should be flat.
Not until the foot is seen rising, like the sun over the center of your head, do you begin to lower your upper body and bring your belly parallel to the floor. The feeling of charging your body forward comes now. Watching alignment.
“Not until the foot is seen rising, like the sun over the center of your head, do you begin to lower your upper body”
For many people the arcing, keeping balance, and holding the knee and hips in the right alignment will be enough, they won’t be able to maintain correct alignment AND bring belly parallel to floor. But some will have a beautiful arc in spine, the chest expanding like a proud peacock, the hips level with floor. The feeling of “charging forward” is there, at the absolute very end, when eventually the belly, tween hips and lower ribs, will be parallel to floor. Long arm stretching forward now, stretching that arm forward, kicking back and up, and at this point the right shoulder begins to disappear behind left, the upper body in a full spinal twist. The chin moves in the direction of the shoulder, but the yogi is not contorting in order to touch it. Take it slow. Be very specific, it’s very easy to do it the wrong way and look sensational.
Even advanced students should, from time to time, slow it way down. Make sure that you can stop the posture at any moment and hold it still, move a millimeter more, then more, until the final pose is inevitable. Be careful, for over long periods of time the wrong way can take its toll.
The right way is a completely different and a very magical standing bow pose.
All the photographs of final bows are doing a disservice to the humble perfection of a true yogic standing bow. Give it a whirl.
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Susan has practiced yoga since she was in preschool and has been teaching yoga for nearly four decades. Her most influential teachers were Jane Manning, Bikram Choudhury, and Paul Grilley. In Europe she trained in Iyengar’s method with Maxine Tobias and Dona Holleman. In her teenage years she studied bioenergetics and the complex relationship between the mind the body and the spirit. A poet and novelist, with advanced degrees in European Cultural and Intellectual History from UCLA and Oxford, she has lived in cities throughout the world and speaks French, Spanish, and Italian. Her recently published novel is called Solsbury Hill. Her training with Hugh Milne, as a visionary craniosacral therapist, has deepened her understanding of the body and its ability to heal. Growing up in the yoga community of Los Angeles, she’s practiced side by side with some of the greats including Mona Miller, Tony Sanchez, Emmy Cleaves, Paul Grilley, Erich Schiffman, Maty Ezraty, Chuck Miller, Rod Dyer, Sarah Powers, Steve Ross, Ana Forrest, Gurumukh, Bryan Kest and countless more. Her teaching is eloquent, detailed, and specific. She teaches meditation classes as well as Bikram, Zen, and Flow. Philosophy of yoga wends its way through all her teachings.