“The scary stuff and the beautiful stuff both come in practice. Our work is to relate with awareness and compassion.” - Sharon Salzberg
Dropping back isn't always the easiest bridge to cross, but definitely worth the effort. I've seen it time and time again, when students begin their journey dropping back, to then learn the posture on their own, it has the tendency to awaken a new sense of confidence and stability. Coordinating a number of elements all at once, it is a feat not only for the body, but for the mind.
When face to face with a difficult asana, I like to digest it into little parts or small bites. Easier to assimilate. When approached in this way, areas of challenge feel doable instead of impossible; never missing a step along the way. If you are about to embark on dropping back with little or no help from a teacher there is no shame in approaching it at the wall. Here you can drill the concept of grounding down through the legs as you, stretch, open and release, bringing your hands flat to the wall about shoulder height. Stay here and breathe for about five breaths, further establishing your connection to the floor, and actively pushing the hands into the wall, hips opening forward. Then after 5 full, complete breaths, while gazing in between the hands, lean the hips forward, drive the energy downward, head back and passive, stand up on the inhale. Arms will follow overhead. On the exhale bring the hands back down over the heart. A simple exercise to develop the body awareness to then learn to drop back fully with assistance from a teacher.
Okay. Let's continue to take it in small bites:
- Spacing from you and the wall is important. You don't want to be too close or too far, for obvious reasons. Take time to roughly measure, by facing away from the wall, turning the torso, to then lightly brush the wall with your finger tips, standing slightly wider than hip width apart. Nothing more, nothing less.
- Find your center. Ground yourself, or better stated, send consciousness downward through the legs, feel firmly connected through the feet, standing just shy of wider than hips. Bandhas should be activated. The more connected to the legs the more open and free the upper body will feel. It works hand in hand. Stand in this way placing the hands together in front of the heart. Breathe.
S T R E T C H
- Next, we aren't even concerned with dropping back yet. First, while continuing the active establishment of the legs downward (I know I keep driving this point home, bear with me), we must stretch the top half of the body upward. Everything active, from the tips of our toes to the ends of our fingers. I know there are teachers out there who like to keep the hands held at the heart in a more passive stance. This is okay. There are definitely other approaches, but through experimentation I have found this method to be more energetic and requires more overall strength when stretching the arms overhead. I don't claim to have the better approach, just simply one that I have found to be more energetic in nature. Experiment and you decide.
- When stretching upward, follow the hands with your gaze inhaling deeply, as you bring the palms overhead. Feel the ribcage lift, feel the sides fo the waist lengthen, pull the belly in gently to support the lower back, perineum lifting, another way to visualize and connect to the bandhas.
O P E N
- Exhale. Start your decent backward once the inhale is complete stretching upward, creating spaciousness in the body. Move the hips forward, follow the hands with your gaze, keep the hands pressed together. The only concern here is to open. The hips move forward as you stretch the upper body backward.
R E L E A S E
- At some point you should see the wall. When the wall is visible open the hands and drop back to only shoulder height. Release. If you place the hands on the wall above shoulder height then simply walk the hands down, but no further. Breathe, 5 complete breaths maintaing your gaze between the hands. Keep the breath steady and full. Yes, it will be more challenging to breath here, but do your best to send consciousness to every breath, feeling a release as you actively push the hands into the wall (wide finger spread), and charge the legs, again, hips forward. Find spaciousness in the spine with each breath.
S T A N D
- To stand, prepare by sending the energy forward into the hips and down the legs. Keep the head back. Inhale. Lean the hips further forward, energize the legs, and rise, upper body open and relaxed, as best you can, head passive. If available maintain the extension of the arms and continue the stretch upward. When upright, descend the arms downward over the heart. Exhale.
* * *
This is a simple prep to eventually work drop-backs with assistance. I have found when students breath correctly, with the accurate technique, while at the same time, becoming acquainted with the proper rhythm drop-backs require, it then doesn't feel so daunting to approach the drop-back, with assistance, descending all the way to the floor.
Take in each step with full awareness and you'll be amazed at what arises. Best of luck.