Ashtanga Tips: Are Your Arms Too Short to Jump Through?

What Aunt Yoga Learned from David Swenson About Jumping Through

Downward Dog Front View
Preparing to Jump Through. Ryan Lane / Getty Images

Dear Aunt Yoga,

I have ​a question for you about Ashtanga practice. Is it unusual to take a long time to get the art of jumping through [from downward facing dog] to seated?

I think that I may be pushing myself too hard to get this and I get frustrated that it seems so easy for others to do it; however, the people in my studio who do have it down say that it's not at all a big deal. My guess is that I am making it a lot more complicated than it really is.

Do you have any tips to share?

Patrick

Dear Patrick,

Allow me to start with a little background for those not familiar with this transition. The jump through you are referring to begins in downward dog. You keep your hands planted on the ground and your legs pass under your body and through your arms to arrive directly into a seated position, sometimes with the legs outstretched and sometimes crossed, depending on where you are in the sequence. In the Ashtanga primary series, this transition is repeated many times as it is how you are supposed to arrive into each seated posture. The basic technique is to bend your knees and cross your ankles while coming through the arms and then reextend the legs on the other side. It may not sound too complicated until you try it and realize that your feet are in the way (or, as some claim, your arms are too short). 

It helps to think of the jump through as an arm balance.

In fact, the most advanced version of this transition takes you from downward facing dog up into a handstand before slowly lowering the legs to a standing or seated position. As such, it requires a lot of abdominal strength. Work on strengthening your core to improve your jumping. Pendent pose (lolasana) is another pose to work on.

It basically freezes the jump through at its most crucial moment when the ankles are crossed and the knees are hugging into your belly. Working on this pose will build your core and give you the feeling for slightly doming your back to make more room for your legs underneath.

Even Aunt Yoga has struggled with the jump through, until I took an excellent workshop with Ashtanga master David Swenson. He gave two tips that made all the difference for me:

1. Instead of crossing the legs at the ankle, cross them higher, at the shin. This makes the package you are trying to move through your arms much more compact.

2. Flex the feet. This prevents your feet from getting caught on the arms as you sail past.

Voila!

Or not. As Swenson wisely pointed out, whether or not you can jump through is of little consequence. This is not the point of Ashtanga practice, nor will it make you a better Ashtangi, pay your rent, or feed the world. Some people may never be able to jump through. If you knew you were one of them, would you stop practicing yoga today?

I hope not. So try not to worry too much about acquiring this skill.

And, by the way, with very few exceptions, no one's arms are too short.

Namaste,

Aunt Yoga

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