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Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana
Two-Legged Inverted Staff Pose

Bolstering Your Practice
To practice this supported backbend, you'll need a bolster. There are a number of prefabricated bolsters you can buy, but I prefer to use blankets because they are adaptable. You will need to experiment a bit to find the right bolster for you and the best way to use it.

If your back is stiff, start modestly by rolling a single blanket into a firm cylinder. If you are more experienced or flexible try a bolster rolled from two blankets. Sit on the floor in front of the bolster and lie back over it, positioning it under your middle and lower back (from the lower tips of your shoulderblades down). It will support your ribs and, if you use the larger bolster, perhaps your waist as well. Relax your legs and melt backward over the bolster, lowering your upper shoulders and resting your head on the floor. Relax your arms on the floor at about the level of your shoulders (Figure 1).

As you begin, your body will probably grab your attention first. Your sensations may range from complete ease to significant discomfort. You are seeking an experience that is difficult enough to make you aware of places where you are tight but which allows you to coax those tense areas into the state of alert relaxation that is essential in a hatha yoga practice.

If your lower back is painful, your breathing strained, your neck crunched, or your head doesn't reach the floor, your position needs to be modified. Reposition the bolster by moving it slightly higher or lower. If that adjustment doesn't help, place a smaller blanket roll under your shoulders and neck or reduce the size of your roll. If your back totally rebels, remove the bolster and consider trying it again later in your practice. When you first try this approach, you may find it easier to warm up by practicing more active asanas first, since releasing while on a bolster demands a particular kind of attention that takes time to develop. I actually put beginners over a single bolster only at the end of class; as their skills increase, we use it earlier. Of course, if you already find this position easy, you can increase the size of your bolster.

Once you have found a position that feels right, challenging but not too uncomfortable, begin to turn your attention inward. Though you have already made some adjustments to become more comfortable, the sheer physical challenge of adapting to this unfamiliar position may still overshadow the more subtle, inner landscape of the pose. Now your real work begins as you seek a way to dive beneath the strong sensations on the surface to an inner place where there is room for you to breathe smoothly and be both mentally and physically calm. The support of your bolster may allow you to create more ease and spaciousness than can when you have to support all your weight with your muscles.

As you lie on the bolster, respond to areas that feel tight or uncomfortable by trying to stretch and move them. Use your hands to gently pull your head and lengthen your neck. To lengthen the lower back, tuck your tailbone and slide your hips further away from the bolster. Enhance your fine tuning by turning your attention to your breathing. Initially, your breath may reflect the discomfort in your body by being slightly ragged. Consciously slow it down and slightly extend each exhalation. As your breathing grows steady, notice how it develops a rhythm that expands beyond the chest to resonate through your whole body. Coaxing that pulse into your tightest areas is your goal.

• Increase spine and shoulder flexibility
• Strengthens and invigorates the whole body
• Improves respiration
• Builds confidence
• Develops humility

• Spinal nerve damage and disc problems
• Chronic shoulder dislocations
• Pregnancy
• Unmanaged high blood pressure
• Retina problems


© 2001 Barbara Benagh
Reprinted from Yoga Journal