I have just concluded a two week chapter in my local classes, focusing on belly down back bends. The trajectory peaked today with Bhekasana, a pose that can feel untouchable without adequate preparation in the shoulders, spine, and legs.
Learning a pose really means studying the shape of the pose, understanding what's required of the various parts of your body in order to achieve that shape, and then spending most of your time doing preparatory postures. I aim to teach my students how to perform the required actions in simpler, more accessible postures, to make translation into the peak pose more effective.
Bhekasana, like many postures, demands a blend of stretch and strength. In fact, it's this high demand that usually sets accessible postures apart from those that are more inaccessible -- the level of both strength and flexibility that the pose insists on simply requires more preparation time.
So what does this look like for Bheksana?
- Lengthening the fronts of the thighs, including the quadriceps and hip flexors
- Strengthening and shortening the hamstrings and glutes
- Increasing the mobility throughout the shoulders
- Extending the spine in this prone (belly down) position, to strengthen the spinal extensors
Preparation for Bhekasana over the past two weeks included lots of belly down back bend strengthening work. Think: all the Salabasana variations.
In the final practice of the two week trajectory, I included repetitions of Salabasana and Bhujangasana to warm up the spinal extensors and prepare the hamstrings and glutes; thigh stretches like Supta Virasana and Anjaneyasana; and then practiced a couple of rounds of Dhanurasana to explore lifting the chest and pressing the feet back into the hands but without the added complication of the funky Bhekasana arm position.
Throughout practice we did work to open the shoulders, and practiced 'flipping the grip' in more accessible, one sided forms before attempting both arms at the same time (think: Anjaneyasana with a thigh stretch, and Ardha Bhekasana, which is Bhekasana with only one leg!).
By the time we arrived at Bhekasana, students were well prepared physically, and also mentally: because the same cues needed to get us into Bhekasana took us through all the previous postures.
This is a teaching skill that will take you far: teach your students how to perform complicated poses by doing simpler poses. Then, the cue translates much more effectively into shapes that require more of us.
I've already had requests for a video class on this one -- stay tuned.