Sunday, August 16, 2009

Jump Around

The Jumping Workshop went off without a hitch last Friday as the first of our series of Yogaskillz Workshops. The aim here is to dissect some of the unique skills used in vinyasa and particularly Ashtanga yoga. It's definitely not a traditional approach to break out of the regular, repetitive practice format and "workshop" anything, so we're risking our Ashtanga Secret Decoder rings here, but we feel it worthwhile. Below is the video that has been up on the website with some of the skills we're covering over the course of three sessions: Jumping, Inversions, and Backbending.

"Jumping," of course, means a little more than, say hopping over a puddle. It refers to the "floating" technique of technically jumping with the legs but passing through/toying with a handstand (without the legs extended up). The center of gravity and body weight are stacked up through the arms, allowing the feet and legs to resist gravity and land lightly, or even hover if you want to be a show-off about it (watch 00:25 - 00:49 for some examples).

With the thermostat on "11," we filled the shala on Friday night and examined four moves: the jumps forward and backward in the two versions of Surya Namaskara (Sun Salutations) and the jumpback and jumpthrough of the seated postures. Each is distinct, but the common goal for each is to get the center of mass over the hands, in effect a handstand for a split second. Gradually this improves control and balance. Now comes the hard part: going back to the mat and attempting to incorporate this knowledge. This is difficult because the movements are so fast and repetitive that changing them even slightly involves trying to short-circuit the muscle memory that already exists there. Usually this means that these movements feel awkward for a while.

Some additional pics and advice:

Pic 1: This fella is jumping through to seated. However, he's WAAAAY up there. Rather than moving horizontally and skimming the feet/legs above the mat, he's jumped up. Notice that he's NOT in a vertically-stacked handstand, exactly. This seems a contradiction to the advice about "passing through" handstand, unless you consider the effect (physics) of the legs being in against the belly instead of on top of the hips. With the legs drawn in like this, the necessary counterbalance comes in shifting the face and shoulders forward of the hands, to bring the center of mass above the hands. At first, this is terrifying and you feel you will fall forward for sure. And you might need to to find the edge. This position is necessary to "float" through and is the correct alternative to, out of fear or disorientation, keeping the spine and arms aligned (straight up and down) and sticking your butt forward by bowing the back.

Pic 2: This shot is basically a few frames/milliseconds after Pic 1. Notice how tightly the body is tucked, hips farther back and, to counterbalance and keep from falling on the butt (keep the weight in the hands), the head and shoulders are even farther
forward. This movement ends one of two ways. Beginner: lower straight down to the floor from here, on the tops of the feet and then straighten the legs in front. Intermediate/Advanced: with the feet flexed (as they are in the pic) bring them through and sit. Think: KNEES FIRST. You really can't be too tucked here.

Practice, practice, practice. Try to feel it, rather than think it. Don't be afraid to wipe out…it's usually necessary to go both too far forward and not far enough to find the right point. For some more videos of floating, especially into and out of various arm balances, check out the Om Shanti blog.

Up next: Inversions, Friday Aug 21. In particular, we'll consider much of the same science of getting the center of mass over the balance point (head, hands, or whatever) as well as focusing on a controlled movement into and out of the posture to gain confidence and control instead of, say, throwing yourself up the wall into it, staying for 5 minutes, and then crashing back to Earth. See you there.

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