Recently I received an honest query about backbending from a male practitioner and teacher of yoga. I love receiving this kind of note because it is an opportunity for more men to understand how yoga, and including backbends, might be good for them. It also touches on some good points.
I have come across your work am very interested in backbending. I am a long time male yoga practitioner and more recently teacher. I have always been challenged by backbending and never seem to advance and fear causing myself long term injury.
I have a very slight kyphosis which is the result of contracting Schuermanns disease in my teens. However that was only diagnosed 1 year ago. I have always had minor chronic pain in my low back but there is nothing other than bad posture.
I have seen many advanced yoga practitioners who are accomplished with backbending but end up finding their spine has always been able to move in this way. Almost contortionistic you might say. When your spine is initially out of alignment it is difficult to know where you should be in space as you perform a backbend. You look like you never had any kind of spinal challenge.
My presentation may look flawless but it has been years of a dedicated practice in working through all my problems. Yes, problems and wondering when things were going to get better. It may look like I possess a gift, but I have been faced with many challenges. My spine is on a slight angle; 17 degrees located in the middle of the upper back. Because of this a lower rib pops out often called a hip rib. As a kid it was always sore because it was in the way of normal activities. I had it checked by doctors who confirmed this is the way it developed in the womb. So here I am on an angle.
Because of the above I had to learn to be more mindful of alignment and work harder at correcting it. I also had a car accident in which I fractured my scapula and broke my wrist. Due to this, my left shoulder was weaker and many problems arose as I learned inversions, arm balances, and inverted backbends.
What most people fail to remember is that when you're facing a limitation it's not the time to give up. It is the time to make time and make the practice adjust to you. These are the little nuggets of wisdom that uncover hidden and structural problems that lie at the root of pain. Furthermore, when the spine is misaligned it is best to focus on building the supporting structure. In other words, the problem area is not addressed first but last. As an example, low back pain is not always removed by targeting the low back but in developing better upper body posture and stronger abdominal muscles.
Many yoga masters say the same thing about working with limitations. They too suffered through depression, disease, poverty and accidents. After hearing this maybe our problems seem a bit more manageable! Yoga is about strengthening the mind. It can also at the same time improve and correct anatomical issues. Maybe you will never learn to touch your feet to your head, but is that the point? Truly, the point is to learn to work with yourself and on all levels.... like, love, hate or dislike them.