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Move Like A Warrior by Dr. Ariele Foster
Grasshopper pose looks a bit like a game of pick-up sticks played with your limbs. A beautiful, but confusing game. I, for one, needed an instruction booklet before playing.
Here it is:
Start with a playful spirit and a warm body.
Option A: a few sun salutations, a few holds of chaturanga dandasana (knees down is ok) to sense the shoulderblades draw firmly onto your back, a broadening of the collarbones, and a buoyancy to the heads of the arm bones (i.e. aim to sustain them at or slightly above elbow height). Fingers wide, and pads pressing actively into the floor. Don’t forget your smiling muscles.
Warm-up Option B: fierce dancing to the pop song you secretly love with nobody watching.
Then, prepare your body more precisely. I curated a substantial sequence of preparatory poses for a reason: Grasshopper is a deep spinal twist, with end range motion of the upper hip into flexion, external rotation, and some abduction but with strong activation of your adductor (inner thigh) muscles. There’s a lot going on. Don’t short-change your body.
After your warm up, enjoy a few longer holds in your favorite standing poses, maybe a bakasana or two focusing on active hands, then drop in a few spinal twists in which you feel your navel draw in, up and over internally (not just from the pressure of your arms). Two of my favorite twists:
- Revolved Side Angle (Pavritta Parsvakonasana) - a great prep because it requires massive stabilization from the legs as well as deep hip flexion
- Revolved Triangle (Pavritta Trikonasana) - not as deep in the directions we ultimately take the hips, however, demands balanced engagement of adductors and abductors
Become your tallest self before twisting.
Specific preparatory poses:
Malasana (Garland Pose), for deep hip flexion
- Bring the inner edges of your feet together, allow your knees to fall sideways, draw your navel forward (flexing at the hips more than the low back) until fingers, elbows, or forehead touch the mat
- Hold for 10 breaths
Marichyasana B variation (Sage forward fold), for all of the top hip actions of the Grasshopper
In seated, draw your left ankle toward your right sitting bone or into half lotus in the right hip crease. Bend your right knee until the foot is flat, lengthen through the spine with right arm reaching up and forward as you bow. If your right shoulder passes the shin, find a half or full bind.
- Hold 5-10 breaths, repeat on the other side
Agnistambhasana (Fire log pose), for hip external rotation. With feet active, cross one ankle over the other knee, lining up your shins so that you see an even triangle of space between your thighs. If the top knee doesn’t go down, don’t force it. Place a block or blanket under any lifted knees for support and set your hands behind you. If they rest easily one over the other, feet peeking out beyond the edges of your knees, then slowly lean forward from the hips.
- Hold 5-10 breaths, Repeat on the other side.
From Fire Log Pose with the right ankle on top, bring your torso to a 45 degree angle and place your palms together in prayer hands (Anjali mudra). Initiating the action with your adbominal obliques, draw your right elbow to the arch of the top foot. Gently press the outer elbow into the sole of the foot in order to deepen the twist in the upper back, as well as create a deeper opening in the hip, prepping for Grasshopper.
- Hold 10 breaths, repeat on other side
Ardha Anandabalasana, Seated (Seated Half Happy Baby Pose)
This pose should feel more spacious than usual with all of the prep we have done. Hold the outer edge of your top foot with the same side arm, and draw that knee into the side of the ribs with your shin parallel to the floor. It is easy to drop into a rounded low back here. Instead, hug your navel in and up, brightening across the collarbones as well as the upper back, and pressing through the head.
- Hold, happily, for 5-10 breaths on each side.
Parvritta Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One legged king Pigeon variation with twist)
This pose begins to engage the isometric hold of the foot to the outer upper arm. Side your
front shin to parallel with the front edge of your mat, keeping toes curling back toward your knee
and your foot neutral (not supinated). I like to keep the back toes curled under so my back leg
Initiate the twist from a lengthening of the spine, and like in revolved fire log pose same side elbow comes to the sole of the front foot. Palms press, heart beams upward, and shoulderblades stabilize to your upper back as you increase the pressure elbow to foot.
- Hold 10 easy breaths, then switch sides
It’s finally time to get down to business. From Tadasana, drop into utkatasana (chair pose) with thighs squeezing together and big toes touching. Then:
Parvritta Utkatasana (Revolved Chair), for spinal twist, hip adduction effort
- This action is now so familiar to you: lengthen spine to initiate the twist then draw elbow to opposite outer thigh. Check that the twist is from your spine, not your pelvis, by keeping knees even.
- Hold 5 seconds on each side
Hold 5-10 breaths on each side.
Funky Revolved Chair
From funky chair, we are very practiced in this act of placing the elbow to the sole of same side
foot. Use your opposite hand as needed to bring the sole of the foot to the halfway mark or higher
on your outer upper arm. You’ll need it!
If palms pressing in this shape feels as easy as reciting the alphabet, open your arms laterally so that one hand touches the floor and the other arm reaches high to the sky. Find steadiness and openness here, but use this shape to progress into grasshopper.
Think of these three elements of the final pose as you approach take-off:
1. Foot to arm: massive isometric friction, like a well-matched arm wrestling
2. Extended leg (should you choose to extend): lift, lift, lift! It's so easy to get droopy
3. Glide your head forward. Don't be afraid to kiss the ground before you fly.
Here's a video of the final entry into grasshopper:
Grasshopper Pose (no Sanskrit term)
Deepen your squat to place your palms on the mat shoulder distance about 12 inches away from your standing foot. Keep pressing your foot into your upper arm as you lean your body weight forward until it is easy to lift your lower leg off the floor (option to rest the outer bent-knee leg on your arm as it bends).
Stay here and revel in your feat, or beam the lower leg out across the horizon.
Smile, breathe, and when ready to come out, aim to exit the way you entered the pose.
Much thanks to Elise Foster for taking these photos.
Dr. Ariele Foster is a yoga teacher, physical therapist and environmentalist with a passion for intelligent, creative instruction. Ariele grew up practicing with her grandmother, (who still teaches yoga in her late 80s!), and started teaching yoga in 2001. Her interdisciplinary classes are enriched by biomechanical smarts, great playlists and humor. Ariele also teaches anatomy for yoga teacher trainings.