You know how it is, your practice plateaus for God knows how long, you trundle along with no apparent progress, you have the odd niggle here and there which seem to linger longer than they should, then, 'BAM!!' Something clicks and you find your practice moves to the next level...... (Caveat: At least for a while ;)
The 'niggle' disappears, you've 'found' something out about yourself, you've learnt how to engage a muscle you didn't know you had, your awareness of the body has grown!
When I started this practice my level of body awareness must have been zero. Seriously, I have had to teach myself, my muscles, to wake up and work. The more I work on the subtle level of awareness, the more I see that so much more work is required. So, this week, since Wednesday last week, my practice has been getting better and better, postures have seemed easier, jump-backs/throughs lighter and more floaty, backbends without pain and with more control and I even managed to grab my heels in chakra bandhasana on Sunday with not much effort (first time!).
But today I practiced at home. And it was one of them, you're not too bothered about it, you start and then quite soon into the practice you realise the practice is feeling really good. Soooo good that I'm not even wanting to skip any jump-backs! (Amazing!) I get to navasana (my nemesis) and I'm feeling engagement at the top of the thigh where I haven't felt it before. I get to kurmasana and its kinda easy for one, I've got straight legs and the hips feel engaged, I try some leg behind head and I'm looking up without much pressure on the back of the head.
Things are feeling good.
I manage to straighten my legs completely and without pain in tittibhasana, something I haven't been able to do for about a year. I get to my other nemesis, upavishta konasana and I'm straight down in one breath! Chin to floor abdomen to floor. What is happening to my body?!?!? This has never happened and I was beginning to resign myself to the fact that my body just wasn't made to bend forward in that way. What has changed?
If anyone tells you that to engage your quadriceps you 'just' lift your kneecaps they are wrong. To engage your quadriceps you engage all the muscles all the way up to your groins. It is this action which will engage uddiyana bandha. Sadly I've been just lifting my kneecaps all this time (5 years). All lifting the kneecaps has resulted in is pain in the insertion of my hamstrings from over-stretching without using reciprocal inhibition and complete frustration with my practice.
Engaging the whole leg right up to the groin, in ONE practice, has enabled me to get chest to floor in all forward seated bends, including wide-legged forward bends, deep kurmasana, straight legged tittibhasana, chest to floor upavistha konasana, a stable chest to thighs in urdhva mukha pascimottanasana and piking up to headstand....with straight legs, first time ever. I was even able to lower the legs straight taking the toes to one inch off the floor then lift back up with straight legs. My jump backs and jump throughs are almost nearly there too, as I've woken up the tops of the thighs and I'm finding the strength.
So in ONE practice, just by engaging my legs properly, I manage to conquer a number of postures/transitions. But, the most important thing about it is that the pain in the glute/hamstring has gone, and this is down to correct muscle engagement! Be aware of your body, when pain arises, you're doing something wrong, search it out and rectify it!! :)