Stuck in Supta Kurmasana? Read this!

I always thought I would fly through Supta Kurmasana.... Except that was not the case at all... Despite my decade long affair with Ballet during my childhood and teenage years, despite the open hips I had always been proud of, despite all of that, I was stuck in Supta Kurmasana for much longer than I had anticipated. For a while I felt frustrated. My ego thought: "How can my ballet hips not be open enough for Supta Kurmasana?" Then, as months went by and I still could not bind independetly, I became obessed. I thought about Supta Kurmasana day and night. I googled things like: "Impossible supta kurmasana" or "are my thighs too big for supta kurmasana?"... I became completely consumed by the pose. Adding to my frustration, everyone kept telling me I should be able to bind independently in the pose... "You are definetely open enough, you can bind with assistance... it must be a mechanics issue"... I wanted to get into that pose independently so badly... But, I continued to struggle... As a result, I tried using even more strength, I tried different hand positions, but the harder I tried, the more I struggled. Day after day I felt more frustrated and obsessed. 

However, amidst the frustration I started noticing some changes in the poses that preceded supta kurmasana. I already knew that the primary series was an ingenius sequence and that poses built on each other, but I did not know that working on a pose at the end of the series would impact a pose that anteceded it so drastically. It was some sort of Supta Kurmasana magic. The harder I worked in Supta Kurmasana, the more positive change I saw in the poses leading up to it. The first change I noticed was that my Parivrtta Trikonasana (revolved triangle) and my Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (revolved side angle) became much looser and easier to get into. Medial rotation has always quite challenging for me, so finding some space in these poses was quite surprising. Even more puzzling was the fact that my supta kurmasana, an exterior rotation pose, was aiding my poses that required medial rotation. That same day, my teacher told me I was just two inches away from binding. I was finally getting somewhere. 

One week later, I easily bounded in Marichiasana D and had all this new found space in both Marichis C and D. As I mentioned previously, Medial rotation is usually very challenging for me. In fact, when I first saw Marichis C and D I was convinced those poses would be impossible for me. But all of a sudden they had become really easy. Getting in them felt like butter... The day that I easily got into marichiasna C and D, was also the day that I felt my fingers graze each other lightly in the back. Somehow my medial rotation and my supta kurmasana were weirdly connected. 

At that point, many months had gone by so I became convinced my thighs were too fat to bind in Supta Kurmasana by myself. Either that, or my big butt... I was so close, but at the same time so far away. Frustrated, I started surverying people that bound in supta krumasana by themselves in class. I noticed they were either 1) tall and legnthy, 2) really skinny, or 3) both tall, lenthgy and really skinny. I never saw a person with tree trunk thighs like mine bind by themselves. Well, except for Kino, but that's an entire different species of yogi... I am neither tall nor skinny, so I figured supta kurmasana was not in the cards for me. In fact, I let my teacher know of my informal survey. Alexia Bauer, bless her heart, she is so patient with my crazy antics... Being the amazing teacher she is, she promptly found a counter example that crumbeld my twisted logic.mSo really, the only thing keeping me from binding independently in Supta Kurmasana was really myself. 

Another month went by and I had completely given up. One day, Alexia's assitant Kirk gave me a very deep adjustment in Marichiasana A. I noticed that when he gave me that adjustment, I was able to touch the tip of my fingers to the other one in a semi-bind. I coulnd't bind yet, but I was one pull away! I rejoiced in excitement. Instinctively, I noticed I needed to create length on my backside. I was not sure exactly what was the problem, but I decided to: 1) Go deeper in my forward bends, 2) really work the dog pelvic tilts in all forward bends 3) bring my legs closer in kurmasana and try my hardest to legnthen the spine, keep a dog tilt and bring my legs off the floor while in that pose. The next day after doing all of that, I bound! I screamed in excitement.

I started doing some research and found that the likely culprits were my piriformis muscle and my hip rotators. As a long time dancer, these muscles get stuck on external rotation and they shorten (Duck walk anyone??). As they shorten they compromise your forward bends. When I started working on my pelvic tilts in my forward bends, they legnthened these hip rotator muscles that had been shortened over many years of ballet training. As my hamstrings are pretty open, I never noticed that my hip rotators were shortened and stuck in this external rotation. My ego never let me notice these external rotators were compromising my forward bends. Upon this discovery I could focus my efforts on lenghtening these muscles throughout my practice. I am still in awe of how binding independently in Supta Kurmasana completely changed and impacted my practice. My medial rotation poses improved drastically, my padmasana became more open, which also impacted my ardha baddha padmottanasana, my ardha baddha padma paschimottanasana, and my tiryam mukha eka pada paschimottanasana. At the end of this frustrating journey, Supta Kurmasana was my key into every pose in the primary series. 

Supta Kurasana has, to date, been one of the hardest poses for me to tackle. But once I found out what I had to focus on, and started doing things correctly and focusing on the basics, everything fell into place. In many ways, Supta Kurmasana is a lot like life... When you focus on doing the right things, when you focus on the basics, the rest just falls into place and you start seeing success in your life.

Posted on October 6, 2015 and filed under Articles about Yoga.