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Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana
Two-Legged Inverted Staff Pose

From Bolster to Backbends
If you know your practice will include backbends, you can postpone your bolster work until you have come to the point where backbends loom. If you find the bolster work already described easy, consider adding this even deeper version. It is wonderful at the beginning of your practice but is especially effective when preparing for backbending.

Place a double blanket roll on top of a stool or milk crate. Sit on the bolster and slide your hips down just enough that you can lie back and position the bolster in the small of your back. Lie back, letting your back melt into the bolster, and allowing your arms, legs, and head to hang. Try to position yourself so your shoulders and hips are at about the same level. It is possible that you may be tall enough or flexible enough that your head reaches the floor. In that case, try folding one or two blankets between the crate and bolster for more height.

Hanging in this position may not be easy at first because your spine must be flexible enough to tolerate the weight of your passive hips and shoulders. You may reduce any strain by placing a block under your head and resting your hands on your chestóor you may even have to bail out for now. Don't be discouraged. This doesn't mean you won't ever go further, only that there is enough of an obstacle that you must temporarily retreat. The work on the lower bolster is plenty of challenge, and will eventually prepare you to go deeper.

If this position is within your capacity, take several minutes to relax into the pose just as you did with the lower bolster. Letting yourself trust the support of the bolster, slow your breath and extend your exhalation as you adjust and ease your spine into a deep, even, comfortable archóa prelude to the malleable spine that is desirable in all backbends. You can deepen the arching action further by either stretching your arms overhead or bending them and sliding your hands past your ears to hold the crate (Figure 2). In either case keep your elbows shoulder width apart: With this alignment, you'll properly direct the bending action to your thoracic spine, instead of arching by hyperextending your shoulders. Also, roll your top shoulderblades back toward the crate to open your chest even more.

Approach this higher bolster with the acute mindfulness you have honed by working with the lesser bolster. Do not sacrifice the pumping rhythm of your breath, as it will help you stay over the bolster longer and in more comfort. Stay as long as you feel you can continue to replace tension with space relaxation and expansion. To come off the bolster, slide your hips to the floor and lie back against your props. At this point your spine should feel warm, your breath steady, and your focus sharp. You're prepared to respond with sureness to the challenges that will arise in the upcoming backbends.

Our ultimate destination in this article is Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana (Two-Legged Inverted Staff Pose), a daunting asana that requires suppleness in the spine and open shoulders. It is not a pose for beginners, and you may be thinking, "That's too advanced for me!" Even if you are right, let's see how far you can go. When I'm working toward an asana I know is near my limits, I approach it in stages. Hatha yoga is, after all, a journey that places unavoidable obstacles in your path. So what if you are only able to go part way toward your goal at first? Facing obstacles in your practice is not only inescapable; it is a crucial part of practice, and reveals lessons and insights even more important than the completed pose. If you practice with this attitude, you'll reap the most valuable benefits of practiceóand your asanas will probably change, too.

• 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