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Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana
Two-Legged Inverted Staff Pose


Beginning the Journey
The first stage in your journey toward Dwi Pada is Setu Bandha Sarvangansana (Bridge Pose). Begin by lying on your back. Place your feet flat on the floor with your heels under your knees, then step your feet slightly wider than hip width apart. Relax your arms at your sides. Pause for a moment to return to reconnect with the inner rhythm of your breath and the movement that ripples outward from it. Exhale strongly as you lengthen the backs of your thighs and extend your calves from knee to foot to raise your hips and bring you onto your shoulders. Thisa movement is powerful and requires a strong enough breath to generate sufficient action to lift your hips. You may need several breaths to create your maximum height. If your lower back is testy, extend the backs of your thighs even more and, ever so slightly, tuck your tailbone in. Ground your heels by extending your calves down toward the floor. This action will lift your hips, take some of the weight off your shoulders, and allow you to extend your spine up and open your chest. If this lift eludes you, step your feet an inch or so further away from your shoulders and try again.

Next, join your hands under your back, straightening your arms and bringing them to the floor. If you can't achieve the stretch in the arms and shoulders needed for these two actions, try rolling your outer arms toward the floor. This may help you to straighten and lengthen your arms more. Conversely, if you tend to hyperextend your elbows, bend them slightly and plant your elbow points on the floor, using this leverage to drag your shoulders toward your feet. Try not to squeeze your shoulders closer together than they already are. At the same time, roll your top shoulderblades toward your tailbone (Figure 3). Ideally, this action will open your chest and make your shoulders feel lighter. Practice this movement repeatedly, since it is a real help in backbends, but make sure it doesn't weaken your leg action: Your knees should remain perpendicular over your ankles. Hold the pose as long as you are comfortable, and then come down on an exhalation by gently tucking your tailbone in as you release your handclasp and roll your spine down onto the floor, tailbone last.

Repeat Bridge Pose several times. With each repetition your body should warm up and adapt more. Using the insights you've gleaned from working over the bolsters, support yourself more and more by breath-initiated inner expansion, instead of relying only on your external muscles. You'll find yourself no longer struggling to stay up, but instead answering an urge that propels you into an ever deeper backbend.

The second part of your backbending adventure is Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward-Facing Bow Pose). Many of us have great difficulty achieving the extension in the arms and shoulders necessary for lifting into this pose. This accomplishment may elude you for some time, but persistent practice will yield results.

Lie on your back as you did earlier, with your feet flat on the floor, heels under your knees, and then step your feet slightly wider than hip width apart. Place your palms shoulder width apart on the floor by your ears, with fingertips pointing toward your shoulders. Think like an engineer for a moment. To hold your weight efficiently, your arm position needs to be structurally sound, with forearms perpendicular to the floor and elbows over wrists. This alignment will reduce the amount of sheer grunt work needed in Urdhva Dhanurasana and help you avoid the common mistake of lifting into the pose by just pushing really hard with your arms. Remember, you have a pair of strong legs; make sure you use them.

Again, close your eyes for a moment to engage your inner focus. With a strong exhalation, extend your back thighs and calves to root the feet and raise your hips until you are once again on your shoulders. Pause. With your next exhalation, use your legs to pull your hips, shoulders, and head off the floor while simultaneously rotating your upper shoulder blades toward your tailbone and straightening and extending your arms. If all goes well, you'll be in Urdhva Dhanurasana (Figure 4 ). Congratulations!

Refine the asana over several repetitions. The closer your arms and lower legs are to being perpendicular to the floor, the more efficient your pose will be. Maintain steady breathing and coax your back to continue softening into a fluid bend like the opening you experienced over the bolsters. Most asanas benefit from less effort, and this one is no exception. You'll be amazed at how much longer and more comfortably you can stay in a pose when you support it as much by inner expansion as by external action.

To come out of the pose bend your arms, tuck your chin and tailbone in as you return your shoulders to the floor, and roll the spine out, bone by bone, to lie down.

Alas, sometimes even our most sincere efforts go unrewarded. If you simply cannot lift off the floor into Urdhva Dhanurasana, continue preparing yourself with more bolster work and with asanas such as adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog), Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Full Arm Balance, aka Handstand), and Setu Bandha Sarvangansana (Bridge Pose).


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

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

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© 2001 Barbara Benagh
Reprinted from Yoga Journal