This seems to be a perennial problem for many students practising Intermediate Series. Often students here simply emulate the actions that they perform in Matsyasana, that is comfortably leaning back and placing the head on the floor.
Supta Vajrasana however couldn’t be more different. Notice that it comes straight after Kapotasana and belongs to the Intermediate backbend sequence. To become proficient in Supta Vajrasana you need to act as if you perform Kapotasana (rather than simply leaning back) while sitting in a full lotus.
It will then help to briefly recall the internal actions that need to be performed to arrive at a deep backbend in Kapotasana for they are the same that need to be applied in Supta Vajrasana. They are:
– internally rotate your thighbones and keep your knees close to each other
– draw your sit bones apart
– send your anterior superior iliac spines (ASIS’s) forward and towards each other, i.e. anteriorly rather than posteriorly tilt the pelvis
– increase the lordotic or forward curve in you low back
– nutate (bow forward) the sacrum in the sacroiliac joints
Attempt also in Supta Vajrasana to reach with the back of your head towards your sacrum and with your tailbone towards the back of the head. You now will notice that your head will land much closer to your pelvis than it would in Matsyasana. As your head lowers down move your knees towards each other, supported by continued internal rotation of your thighbones. This will make your feet and big toes slip up much higher into your groins thus making it easier to keep hold of them as your spine arches back and your head comes down towards the floor.
When coming back up from Supta Vajrasana reverse all of the above actions and
– externally rotate your thighbones and let the knees come further apart
– draw your sit bones together
– draw your anterior superior iliac spines (ASIS’s) backward
– counter-nutate (return from nutation) the sacrum until you reach a neutral sitting position.
Another important action that enables one to keep hold of the big toes in Supta Vajrasana is to actively work the hands. You must put conscious effort into gripping with the hands to keep hold of the toes. This pulling action also helps the elbows on your back to glide past each other (you can wet your elbows to enhance this). Using the hands in this way activates the latissimus dorsi muscle, which enhances the backward arch in our spine. Latissimus dorsi also connects to our core via the thoracolumbar fascia. In fact, the strength of one’s grip is often used as an indication and objective measure of core strength.
Repeat this movement pattern five times, each time when you move up and down in Supta Vajrasana. This posture thus becomes a major tool to increase hip-rotation and proficiency while being in Padmasana (lotus posture). The idea of Supta Vajrasana really is to place the already existing intensity and sophistication of a deep Kapotasana backbend into the service of improving your Padmasana. In order to reap this benefit we must let go of the idea that Supta Vajrasana has anything to do with Matsyasana or that it is the teacher’s job to keep our hands on our feet.