I’ve been going to yoga classes off and on since my early 30s, when my friend Deb and I decided to celebrate finishing our dissertations with a hatha yoga class (not very wild and crazy, I know, but anything seems exciting compared to dissertation writing). My attention turned back to yoga in January when I started going to a local studio (Artemis Yoga in Watertown, MA) that is a 10-minute walk from my house. Again, it was motivated by a friend (Norah this time—what would we do without supportive friends?)
I’ve been loving and appreciating yoga for its focus on where my body is right now, the attention to thoughts, feelings and sensations, and the choices it offers for adjusting the intensity of the experience.
Which is why taking a ropes yoga class—also called Kurunta Yoga—was irresistible. And it didn’t disappoint.
“Kurunta” means “puppet”, and in this class, you use ropes to stabilize or shift your weight away from some parts and toward others, to change the way yoga poses (asanas) feel. The ropes also let you increase the intensity, duration, or variation on the poses. Here’s what the ropes wall at my studio looks like.
You can use the upper and lower ropes around your waist or your leg, or you can hold them to increase a stretch or for stability. For instance, we changed the way Downward Facing Dog feels. For comparison, here’s what it usually looks like:
There are lots of ways to modify the pose to make it easier or more challenging. Of course for some it just comes naturally:
In the ropes class, we put a lower rope around our waists over a blanket (so the rope wouldn’t hurt against skin). We placed our feet against the back wall, and then hung suspended by the rope, placing our hands on the mat. In this position, virtually all of the weight is on the legs—you can practically lift up your hands—so you can sink into the feeling of the hips and thighs sinking backwards. It was intense and very satisfying.
Liz Padula, the owner of Artemis and our instructor, carefully demonstrated each of the poses for us, and then talked us through them.
Ropes classes are small by necessity (each person needs a set of ropes and wall space), so there is lots of individual instruction.
Every time I take a yoga class I am reminded of the individuality of fitness. Some poses and flow moves are easy for me, as I’ve got a pretty good forward bend and a bendy back. On the other hand, my shoulders are very tight and I’ve torn both rotator cuffs (had surgery on one, PT on the other), so shoulder-intensive poses are simply not possible for me without major modifications. The ropes course was a new way to find out about my body—its limitations and its improvisational capacities (thanks to the ropes). Here are some more standard poses we did, using ropes to help open up and deepen them:
Near the end of class came the big finale—an inverted mid-air headstand. To do this, we had to tie ropes together to create a swing, sit in it, and make our way up the wall. Here’s Liz with the demo:
Then you’re supposed to let go gradually, moving your feet to the inside, and hang there like an upside-down frog. Really.
These are some of my classmates in different stages of the headstand:
I’m very bummed that I didn’t quite have the nerve to let myself go into the headstand. I got up the wall, got my legs out, but was worried I didn’t have enough strength. The woman next to me also said she was nervous and didn’t do it. But I think that yoga isn’t all about strength. It’s about experimentation and trust. I have a strong sense of fitness adventure but having been running short lately on fitness trust. Using these ropes made me face some of my own trust issues in an up-close-and-personal way. I had to trust the ropes to hold me. And they did. And they will. Even if I’m upside down in mid-air.
So I’m going to get that mid-air headstand next class. And will report back.
Thanks to Liz at Artemis Yoga for taking pictures of the class (while she was also teaching it), and to my classmates for letting me post these photos of them.
So, readers, what sort of fitness trust issues are you having these days? What do you use to hold you up when you are in need of a little more support?
5 thoughts on “Asanas on the Ropes—Trying out Kurunta Yoga”
I use the nearest hardback library book, or a soft toy that doesn’t squeak…
Great post. In Iyengar yoga we use ropes for all these things and more. I would rather do headstand without the ropes (I find the ropes version aggravates my lower back and also, strangely, creates anxiety!). But the different ways we use ropes (and other props) to support and explore different asanas has always struck me as one of the best features of Iyengar’s methods. It sounds like you’re exploring all sorts of cool things these days. Enjoy!
Thanks! I didn’t even know this was an Iyengar technique until I looked it up. It’s just great– I’m definitely a convert to Iyengar to add to my yoga repertoire. Will let you know how to headstand-with-ropes goes…
I go to the same studio Tracy references here (thanks for introducing me to it, tracy!) and can also vouch for the value of rope work. We don’t use the ropes exclusively by any means, but most classes involve their use in some way or other at some point. Usually, it’s to help demonstrate a piece of an asana that we otherwise might not feel in our bodies, just as you experienced with down dog, Catherine. I find the ropes brilliant, and I quite like “hanging sirsasana” (IE: headstand at the ropes). It does require a leap of faith to get into, but then I find it just opens my back up like nothing else.
Reblogged this on FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE and commented:
Yesterday I went to ropes yoga (at my local studio Artemis Yoga) after a very long break (mainly because of scheduling conflicts). It was exciting and a little nervous-making to be back; I’m still recovering from cold and bronchitis and a month of very little physical activity, so I’m definitely not operating at full strength. But I love this practice—it appeals to my inner 8-year-old who enjoys climbing, hanging upside down, and trying new things.
The teacher, Pam, is a great instructor. She’s attentive, very knowledgeable, and offers loads of modifications in a low-key way. She also keeps the class moving at a good pace, which is not always easy when you’re using a lot of props (blocks, blankets, sometimes chairs) and moving ropes around and tying knots.
This class for me was an exercise in acceptance:
acceptance that I’m not recovered from this chest cold/bronchitis, so I can’t exert myself as much as I would like;
acceptance that my strength/conditioning are what they are at this moment, which will determine what my ropes practice is today;
acceptance that my body has a history of injuries (shoulder surgery for rotator cuff tear, to name one) and vulnerabilities and hard limits (there are some poses my body flat-out refuses to do);
acceptance of being seen and being helped while doing this practice– I was feeling a bit dizzy, so didn’t do the headstand inversion; instead Pam suggested a standing rag doll pose on the wall that felt good.
I didn’t take any pictures yesterday, so I’m reblogging my previous ropes yoga post so you can see how things are set up. I highly recommend this kind of class if you have an opportunity and like to climb and explore space, limits and what your body might be able to do with them.
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