How do you jump back?
Now that we have established some hand foundation in part 4 of this sun salutation series, let me say something really obvious. If you don’t pour all of the weight into your hands before you try to jump back, it’s going to be difficult to get your feet off the floor. It will literally make your legs heavier.
Most people wonder how to get their feet off the floor. The first way IS to pour as much of your body weight into your hands as reasonably possible. If all of the weight is in your hands, then your feet should be lighter, no? Remember, the hands are just the contact point, the real strength of this is in the armpit.
The truth is, this is something that you want to develop over time. If you run over to your mat and just lean in as much as you can all the time, your wrists are probably going to get sore. So don’t do this all at once. Instead, slowly start to lean more weight in than you have been and let it build up over time. Remember don’t resist the weight from just your triceps and arms, but connect it to your armpits and that ever important serratus anterior muscle. This was discussed in part 4.
Many people don’t realize how important this part of the sun salutation is for developing the patterns that are required for future arm balances, such as handstands. It’s so important, I dedicated an entire chapter to it in Functional Anatomy of Yoga.
Hop up or jump back?
There are a couple of choices for the jump back itself. You can jump back from the looking up position, meaning, you bend your knees slightly, lower your center of gravity, and then when you jump back, everything goes back and you lower down. You can also jump up before you send your legs back. They are two very different things and therefore create different patterns. It’s not that one is right and the other wrong, they’re just different.
In the two jumping scenarios most people will have to bend the knees first and lower the center of gravity (your pelvis essentially). From there you would either send it up or back with the help of the legs and they will move the center of gravity in one direction or another as they straighten.
Remember that beginners have no business trying to do advanced things without the appropriate patterns in place. It often leads to injuries. So if the jump back or up does not fit with your current abilities, just step back, it’s really OK.
Jumping back from the look up
Jumping back, as opposed to up, is probably the more common version of the next movement. It makes sense and follows on from not leaning far enough forward in the look up part that we discussed last time. This is not the “wrong” way of doing things, in fact, it may be the “right” way for you at this moment.
There are two versions of the jump back part. The most common “mistake” is to let the shoulders go back with everything else. I call this a “mistake” because it avoids keeping the weight in the hands. Ideally the shoulders stay forward even as we jump back.
There is however an upside to letting the shoulders move back as you jump back. This is that it is less stress and effort on hands, wrist, and shoulders. The downside is that long-term it does not lead to the anatomical patterns that most people want in order to do more advanced arm balance patterns such as handstands. You will have to find the appropriate balance of work for yourself.
The second version is only slightly different. Instead of letting your shoulders move back with everything else, they stay more forward. This keeps the weight in the hands longer and is a great segue between the shoulders moving back and doing the next version which is the jump up before going back.
Jumping up before jumping back
Jumping up first is also common, but not nearly as common as jumping back as I just described. In this version, the knees may bend and you would send the pelvis UP before it goes back. This requires you to control your center of gravity in a different way. In this case, you’ll be sending it up until it is balanced over the shoulder girdle. Even if it is just for a moment.
This version comes with its own pros and cons as well. On the positive, it will develop the pattern of strength required for future arm balances. It will put you in touch with your core in a different way than jumping back right away will. This is an important difference, especially since everyone assumes that it is core strength that makes the difference between a good and bad jump back movement. They’re not wrong, but it’s not the only thing.
Of course it’s harder to jump up, especially if you try to hold it for that brief moment. It is a worthy goal if you find yourself on this path of development.
In order to do this, you want to develop the relationship between your hands and the floor. This begins in the previous step of looking up in the last article. It initiates the development of a pattern of contraction that includes triceps, deltoids, the rotator cuff muscles, and the serratus anterior. They all engage in a way that creates a strong and stable shoulder girdle that can support your body weight above it.
How does your psoas and core relate to this?
Most people assume that the core is what is most important in lifting up in order to jump back, whether it is lifting from the floor or here when doing a sun salutation. The truth is, it IS important to have a relationship with your core and for your core to be reasonably strong. However, remember that it isn’t technically your core that is lifting your hips in the air. After all, your core doesn’t lift itself. It does stabilize itself though.
It’s really about your core being stable enough so that the muscles that move the core area (pelvis basically) of the body are able to manage and control the core as it goes up in the air and then over the hands and shoulders. It’s certainly a good place to focus on and it’s related to the psoas, bandhas, and a deeper connection to movement.
However, it’s almost pointless to have developed this “core” relationship if you don’t simultaneously have a relationship with the “core” of the upper body that will support this.
When you jump back, you need both of these “core” areas functioning and in relationship to each other.
As much fun as it might be to just randomly try handstands, and it is a lot of fun, if the right patterns have not been set up prior to the random tries, then it’s unlikely you’re going to find your way to being able to hold a handstand.
The seed of the pattern of handstands lies in places like sun salutations where you learn it in a small manageable dose. Is it essential that you lift up before you jump back? No. Is it fun to continue to develop skill and challenge ourselves? Yes.
By itself, handstands don’t matter, nor does jumping up before you go back in sun salutations. But, if you learn something about yourself along the way, then you’re probably on the right path.
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Thanks for this great reply and for defending the stepping back and up ‘asana’ against my mean accusations! Of course an injury is a broad thing, its good to have this put so clearly, a good reminder to see things as they are. I was aware this thing of pre-existing patterns and imbalances; so much of my yoga journey has been about healing these, and that process of transformation when you become aware of those things, and able to develop that proprioception thing and work mindfully with the healing potentials in the asanas fascinates me. Also just the power of the asanas to change our bodies.
Yes it was a shoulder girdle thing, but now I can jump back in a stable way – and the method is/was as you advise; examining each part of the vinyasa and assessing the weightbearing, and only moving when I’d found the balance and engagement. Jumping through has become shockingly easy! (Injuries can be gifts too it seems.)
I did try the alternate feet stepping thing in my first year of practice, but it never felt natural and I guess I defaulted. Don’t people always take off from the same foot when they walk? Maybe that idea is one for your research and pondering process, and possibly a paragraph or two in the future? Namaste again, Felicity
I have a request for a segue article from you – which is how do you stabilise the shoulder girdle when you don’t jump back, but are only stepping? I am curious about how to practice safely – and bear your weight evenly – if you only step back and up.
I started a Mysore practice with a back injury (and being over 50), so did not attempt to jump back for three or so years, by which time I was into the second half of primary series. By then, it turned out, I’d also unconsciously cemented a pattern of weight-bearing that directed more load through my left shoulder/arm, than my right. Once I began jumping back consistently the weaker right arm got ‘injured’ – I’d compensated by hyperextending its elbow in the vinyasa and inevitably ended up with hand pain and an inflamed arm.
With the assistance of a physiotherapist and these wonderful articles, I’ve returned to the mat and am building the correct movement pattern and finding stability and strength I never had before. (I am particularly awed by the impact of putting weight into the hands during look up.) But, I wonder if jumping – being symmetrical – is likely to develop your body properly, and stepping – being asymmetrical – needs a different kind of guidance to stay safe?
Could some of the dysfunction have been due to my ‘rocking’ my weight onto the same shoulder during stepping? (I stepped back and up with the right foot.) Or did that additional loading time just make the left side stronger, which wasn’t an issue until I began to use both shoulders at the same time?
I’d be very curious to hear your thoughts on the implications of stepping not jumping some day.
And meanwhile, I can’t thank you enough for how this series (and now your truly wonderful book) enabled me to start practicing again. Namaste, Felicity
I have learned that you should immediately bend the elbows when jumping back (straight into chaturanga basically) as jumping back into a high plank is jarring and stops the flow. Thoughts?