Printed in Sweat Equity Magazine August/Sept 2017
Upward Facing Staff Pose is considered an advanced backbend. One should be proficient in practicing Chakrasana (Full Wheel or Upward Bow Pose) and also Sirsasana (Headstand) before attempting Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana, which, from a technical standpoint, is a combination of these two.
In Light on Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar says, “Action is movement with intelligence.” This comment is especially relevant to Upward Facing Staff Pose, which may take years of steady and consistent practice before even attempting. In this article, I discuss some of the postures you can use to prepare the body (and the mind) for our feature pose. These are not necessarily in sequence, nor do they even need to be practiced on the same day! Each will compliment your journey towards Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana in their own way. Building strength, length, and stability requires persistence, patience, and time—three things that emphasize the “intelligence in action” that should always override the aesthetic appeal of a pose.
Ardha Pincha Mayurasana (Dolphin Pose)
With Dwi Pada being an advanced backbend on the forearms, moving fluidly from Dolphin to Forearm Plank and back again several times is a useful way to open the shoulders while building self-confidence and increasing core strength. Focus on keeping your wrists aligned you’re your elbows, which are directly under the shoulders. Root down through the inner forearms and press through the length of each finger, straight out to the fingertips, to strengthen the shoulder girdle, preparing it to bear more weight. Although incredibly challenging, Dolphin Pose is accessible to most students without injury, making it an excellent preparatory posture.
Purvottanasana (Inclined Plane Pose)
Inclined Plane Pose stretches the anterior deltoid and pectoral muscles. It is an intermediate backbend that can easily be modified to accommodate all levels, simply by bending the knees. Arguably the greatest challenge of Inclined Plane Pose is keeping the shoulders from collapsing inwards. Focus on drawing the shoulder blades towards the spine, using the rhomboid muscles of the back. Keeping your collarbones broad and shoulders moving away from the ears will strengthen the back muscles used in Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana.
This is the final progression towards Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana and a useful indicator of the work (stretching and strengthening) that remains to be done for success in the final pose. An advanced backbend itself, Chakrasana demands notable power to lift the hips off the mat against the pull of gravity, and intense strength and stamina are required to hold the pose for any period of time. Remember to invoke the powerful energy of your legs. Engage your hamstrings by rooting down through the heels and contract the inner thighs by keeping your knees aligned over your ankles. Keep the deltoids open by rooting down through the inner edges of your hands. All of these elements will play an important role in our Feature Pose.
Headstand: it is important that you have experience bearing weight on your head, as in Sirsasana, before entering the more precarious position of Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana.
Modify: Practice Bridge Pose, or Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, to receive the chest-opening and backside-strengthening benefits of Inverted Staff Pose, without straining the wrists and providing a less intense backbend for the spine.
Advance: Lift one leg into the air for the “single-legged” variation of the pose, called Eka Pada Viparita Dandasana.