Backbends make me feel like a teen and not in a good way. Mark Twain once said, "Ignorance, intolerance, egotism, self-assertion, opaque perception, dense and pitiful chuckle headedness -- and an almost pathetic unconsciousness of it all, that is what I was at 19 and 20."
Some kinder words come to mind when I think of teens: adventurous, progressive, in the moment, honest! But as a teen, I, too, was pretty impulsive and paid no regard to the consequences of my actions. Now, as a 31 year-old, I’ve realized that back-bends bring out many undesirable qualities of my teenage self. OMG I totally mean it! Shut-up!
While I try to approach the whole yoga class in a calm, grounded, peaceful way, when it comes to back-bends, my inclination is to go deeper and bend farther and stop listening to my body altogether. I sacrifice alignment, groundedness, and breath for the thrill of a hardcore backbend. As a result of this reckless behavior (my mom’s fave phrase!), I suffer the consequences in the form of lower back pain and soreness in my neck instead of feeling the freeing, cleansing, and heart-opening benefits.
Read on for five pointers that have helped me approach a back-bend like a responsible adult (!) with more satya (truth) and ahimsa (non-violence).
Here’s an acronym to help: B(reathe) A(bdominals) N(eck) G(lutes) S(houlders)
1. Breathe! To me, this is a “Golden Rule” of the yoga practice: If you're in any pose (or life situation) that prevents you from breathing easily then readjust so that you can. This might mean coming out of the back-bend a little until you find more space in the spine, lungs, and diaphragm.2. Abdominals – keep them engaged. We have the tendency to dump and release the front side of the body when back-bending. While thoroughly stretching the front body is a major bonus in back-bends, try gently drawing the navel towards the spine and engaging the deeper muscles of the front body without gripping. You will still get the glorious stretch but will take some of the strain out of your lower back in the meantime.3. Neck – lengthen through the back and sides not just the front. Instead of compressing the vertebrae at the back of the neck, feel energy growing out through the crown of your head. Imagine someone is gently pulling you up by your ears.4. Glutes – release them. With practice you can begin to isolate and let go of the tension in the glutes. This release frees up the sacrum and lower back. This will also prevent external rotation in your thighs which will keep your knees and ankles safely aligned.5. Shoulders – Float them away from the ears. We tend to shrug our shoulders when back bending. Exhale the shoulders away from your ears without pushing down on them from the top. Instead, gently initiate the movement from the base of your shoulder blades.
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