Karandavasana, like Kapotasana in the Second Series, is the kind of pose that always brings up a bit of fear and anxiety as you approach it. Well, at least I feel the anxiety and fear. But Karandavasana is also a bit more fun in its challenge.
It has been said often that women cannot come up in Karandavasana, but I don’t feel this to be true. It is harder for women, for sure, as we lack the arm strength that men have, but women can do it with sustained and consistent effort.
Ironically, I found that it is not so much arm strength but strong bandhas. When I first began to practice Karandavasana, I thought one needed a great deal of arm strength. But what has helped me is to really, really engage the bandhas in maintaining the steadiness and strength to come back up after landing in the arms.
Everyone is different, but here are the little things which helped me:
1. I focused first on getting a very strong Pincha Mayurasana, to be comfortable in this position for at least 10 breaths. If there is effort, the balance points are off. Pincha needs to feel effortless, weightless if one is to successfully execute Karandavasana. Important note — it is very crucial to not rely on the wall. The ability to suspend yourself in this position is there in your body, and doing this with a wall will slow this awareness. This is just my personal opinion, but I think it is actually better to topple over in Pincha and know that you can survive. Yes, believe it or not, you will survive. Knowing how to fall helps; I often curled into a ball to protect the back. I’ve heard that people who fall tend to lose their fear and gain the confidence in the bandhas, and I feel this is true from my own experience. I’ve also seen those who have used the wall for a long time, and have never been able to execute Pincha or Karandavasana with the necessary balance on their own. Again, it is best to consult with your teacher on this point.
2. There is a slight back bend involved in Karandavasana as you fold legs into lotus. If the back is too straight, it is hard to maintain balance while your legs are upside down in the air.
3. At the same time, the shoulders need to feel strong, the lungs expanding with breath. Breath is important too — I think of the breath expanding the lungs as I root in my chest, creating a center of stability in the solar plexus.
4. As I come down in Karandavasana, I fully engage the bandhas. I try to control the descent and landing as much as I can, and land as lightly as I can into the arm pits. The bottom must feel light. If the bottom/legs feel heavy, and I land too hard, I am never able to come up. If I release the abdomenals, I cannot come up.
5. It’s really hard to hold for 5 breaths and come back up. I still need to improve on this, as you can see in the video. Sometimes I can hold for 5, but more often than not, it is only 4 breaths. As I lift my legs back into the air, I visualize the back bending again to hold the balance as I transition back into Pincha Mayurasana.
6. The last part sometimes feels the hardest — shifting the arms back in Chaturanga after all that exertion. I know a lot of folks who do not do this, but my teacher would not let me advance until I got this down. So, if you have energy left over, try to shift the arms back as you transition to Chaturanga.