Ustrasana in Sling
Center on the set of ropes. Make a simple sling (see pages 10–11)Place a mat folded in four across the sling, and a blanket on top of the mat. (C4.8)
Stand facing the wall with the sling behind you. Settle the sling into the middle buttocks. (C4.9)
Lean back with the shoulders and torso, keeping the rope taut. Take the hands up the ropes as you push away from the wall. Bring the knees onto the wall, at or slightly below hip level. (C4.10)
Slide the hands down the ropes to the hips and pull against the ropes to coil the chest. The shins and tops of feet press into the wall. The rope sling should move the buttock flesh in the direction of the knees, helping to keep the lower back long. (C4.11)
Work in the pose
Release the head back when the thoracic spine is moved in fully. Feel the cervical spine willing to move easily before the head comes back.
If you feel balanced, let go of the ropes and hold the blanket by the buttocks instead. Pull the blanket wide, and towards the wall, helping to coil the chest more. (C4.12 & C4.13)
Make the sternum parallel to the wall if possible.
If you are comfortable, try letting go with both hands simultaneously and reach for the heels. (C4.14)
Hold the ropes and pull the chest up. Step back down to the floor.
Rest the head on the wall for a few breaths.
Pregnant or menstruating women should avoid this pose.
If the pose irritates the low back, avoid this pose.
If you feel that you are sliding, try removing the blanket and just use the folded mat on the sling.
Turning this into a flying pose changes your relationship to gravity and also makes it more fun. By changing it up so much, you may be able to access new feelings or deepen the pose.
Despite flying above the ground, this is also a very stable pose. You may find you can open the chest more than usual.
Where to go from here?
Ustrasana is a wonderful mid-point pose in a backbend practice. It makes a bridge between prone backbends and Urdhva Dhanurasana. It is also a useful pose to feel the way the upper chest and back move for Virabhadrasana I and standing twists such as Parivrtta Trikonasana and Parivrtta Parsvakonasana.
I want to congratulate Tristan Boyer Binns and the Boston Yoga Ropes Collective for presenting this work on the techniques and benefits of rope work in yoga asana. Wall and ceiling ropes have been a distinctive feature of the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Institute in Pune since its inception in the 1970s. Ropes work typifies the brilliance and innovation of BKS Iyengar in helping his students to find ways to approach even the most challenging yoga asanas with intelligence.
BKS Iyengar recognized that many aspiring practitioners have restriction in the body that makes the classical asanas difficult to access. For the practitioner to be able to achieve evenness of mind and serenity of consciousness—the ultimate aim of yoga—the state of prayatna śaithilya (effortless effort) needs to be achievable. By using the ropes, the practitioner changes her relationship to gravity and can use her own body weight as traction on the spine. Working with motion helps to break through stiffness and create freedom in the joints so that movements become possible that were not possible before. When one is hanging on the ropes, the degree of muscular effort is substantially reduced, making it possible to stay in the asana for a longer period of time. The breath circulates with more freedom, which benefits the physiological body. This freedom moves beyond the physical and leads to freedom in the mind, which becomes expansive, calm, stable. I know how ropes can transform a backbend practice in particular. At the Backbend Intensive in Pune, India in 1991, Guruji had us use ropes to do backbends we could not do from the floor.
Even the stiffest bodies could use ropes as a means to go deeper into a pose and prepare for the next stage. Prashant Iyengar has referred to backbends in the ropes as the “ethereal backbends." As though the body was suspended among the stars, these poses bring about an elemental transformation: we are no longer bound by the earth and experience a feeling of inner space and freedom in our embodiment. As a result, our consciousness transforms. This resource will enhance your practice of yoga asana. You’ll learn how you can use yoga poses on the ropes to prepare for challenging asanas off the ropes or as a dedicated ropes practice in and of themselves. By practicing the rope variations in this book, you will also pierce through fear and develop courage. Practicing on the ropes can be joyful and empowering. It is a joy to see how this book has come together: the poses, the instructions, the history, how so many students and teachers have been included in the photos. BKS Iyengar often said that dedicated practitioners and students should come together to share freely their experiences of yoga with one another so that all may benefit from this sacred art. I applaud the Boston Yoga Ropes Collective for sharing their work and wish you all many wonderful practices.
Patricia Walden • Boston, 2019
This is an excerpt from Yoga Kurunta: Learning the Ropes A Comprehensive Guide to Using Wall Ropes in your yoga practice by the Boston Yoga Ropes Collective. Learn more at https://www.ropes.yoga/