I remember my first Ashtanga class vividly....particularly the point at which the teacher, Nick, instructed everyone to 'lift up and jump back'.
Try as I might I couldn't get my sit bones more than a fraction of an inch off the floor and there was absolutely no way that my legs were going to get through my arms.
Thankfully Nick was a good teacher, and over the next weeks he explained the mechanics and principles behind this seemingly impossible movement...and with practice it came over time.
In the years since that initial encounter, I've picked up many tips, techniques and practices that can help to develop the strength and control to 'lift up and jump back' or to float from down dog through to a seated position.
Below I've distilled these down to my Top 5 Tips for cracking the jump through code - I hope you'll find them helpful.
1. Strong hands, mobile wrists
When taking jump through and jump back movements we need to ensure we have a really strong foundation in our hands...if it’s weak, then that weakness will carry through the entire kinetic chain, making the movements impossible.
So the harder we press down into the floor, the better - that connection down into the floor then creates the ‘rebound energy’ needed to lift and support the weight of the body with the hands.
(I wrote about settling hand positions for hand balances in my Top 5 Tips for Mastering Hand Balances - the same principles apply)
The other thing that we need to be conscious of is that, because we need to bring the shoulders forward of the hands and wrists (with the arms fully extended), jump back and jump forward transitions require a LOT of wrist extension.
So if you don’t currently have that range of motion in the wrists then you’ll need to spend some time developing it before attempting these transitions. The easiest way to do this is to replicate the jump through hand and shoulder set up but with the weight of the body supported by the floor.
From all fours, with arms long, shift the weight forward and back to bring your shoulders forward of your wrists (squeezing the mat with your fingertips)…you can build up over time to increase the range of these movements.
Do take it easy and make sure that you spend a few minutes mobilising the wrists first (at minimum circling them with bunched fists, flexing and extending them with flat palms).
2. Make your arms longer
By lengthening our arms, flexing (or ‘rounding’) our spine and drawing our shoulder blades forward and around the sides of our rib cage - just as we do in cat stretch - we’re able to make our arms ‘functionally longer’.
So imagine that your arms start not from your shoulders, but from the centre of your chest - by reaching as far forward as possible you will add a few valuable inches to your reach.
When applied to jump backs and jump throughs these extra inches create the space we need to ‘get all the way through’ - but in order to make use of that space we need to apply our next principle...
3. Tuck in tight
Let’s be honest - even when we’ve made our arms ‘longer’ there’s still not much space to squeeze through.
So we need to make the rest of our body as small as possible by tucking into as tight a ball as we can manage.
For this we need to work on our hip mobility- not only is a deep cross legged forward fold required, but we also need enough strength in our hip flexors to keep the legs drawn into the body without the use of hands or gravity.
Squats and cross legged forward folds will help to develop the range of motion we need, and poses such as Navasana will develop hip flexor strength.
There are also more specific applied practices and drills for the jump back / through. I explore all of these in my ‘cracking the jump through code’ workshops (check here for the next date).
4. Send your hips high
Often I see people trying to take the jump through with a very flat trajectory - which means that their feet hit the mat way before they’ve reached their hands.
Instead, rather than jumping forward, jump up and ‘swing’ through. David Swenson uses the analogy of a skateboard ramp - we need to get to the top of the ramp in order to generate the moment and trajectory required.
And rather than thinking about your seated position as the end point in the movement (the ‘bottom of the skate ramp’), think about making it back up to the top edge, on the opposite side.
5. Bandha, bandha, bandha...
The ‘floaty’ movement quality required for achieving controlled jump through and jump back movements comes from accessing and activating uddiyana (or ‘upward flying’) bandha in the abdomen and mula (or ‘root’) bandha in the pelvic floor.
Without these, the body is simply not able to support its own weight, no matter how hard we press down through the hands.
Bandhas are definitely something best explored in person with a teacher…but for the purpose of this post, the best direction I can give is to feel that the belly button is ‘lifting up’ towards the chest.
You might find that as you draw the belly button up, it also has a tendency to slightly draw back towards the spine. This is a great starting point for uddiyana bandha.
And then imagine that there is a little thread attaching your belly button to your pelvic floor - so as you draw the belly button up, there’s a corresponding (gentle) lift of the pelvic floor muscles (don’t overdo it). Now we have mula bandha too!
The trick is to maintain this engagement in uddiyana and mula bandha as you move through the jump through and jump back transitions - it takes practice but it’ll come over time.
So there you have my Top 5 Tips to cracking the jump through code...but there’s a lot more to explore.
In my jump through workshops we look at various approaches to each transition, progressing from basic options to more challenging variations.
You'll leave the workshop with an understanding of the techniques behind these movements and with some simple practices that you'll be able to take back to your mat and work with over time...if you stick with them I guarantee you'll be floating before you know it!
And if you have any questions about these transitions, or would like to work on them in person - please do get in touch.