The practice of yoga constantly reveals to us a new beginning. As we allow ourselves to let go and feel free in the physical body, we start to experience stillness in the mind also. And if we are brave enough to completely immerse in the asana practice, we realise that there are no limitations that restrict us from feeling free if we truly commit to feeling so.
The journey into every asana can be challenging. Sometimes it may seem impossible to do, so we surrender to the ego and give up before we even start trying. But then one day, something within begins to shift, and all of a sudden there is an urge to give it another try. As we move deeper into the asana, we notice just how much further we can go, not because we have to, but because the body, mind and soul are ready for this experience. We tend to store a lot of our emotional and physical tension in our lower back, without even being aware that the blockage we feel could be about an experience we chose to ignore and bury deep into our lower back. The beauty of the yoga practice of course is in the little steps we take throughout its journey, always learning to adapt to change and accept where we are at in the present moment.
Backbends are can feel challenging for many, for some they may seem even impossible. There is so much focus that needs to be placed to the inner self and this can be a frightening experience for some. My beginning journey into backbends felt very similar. Just the thought of bending backwards used to send shivers down my spine, literarily. For a long time, I blamed this on my body’s ability or inability to become more flexible. Without realising, all these negative feelings towards my body created more tension and my body became even more tense. With practice, commitment and self-love practices, I began to progress on my backbends journey.
BE GENTLE WITH YOURSELF
Take it slow when it comes to backbends as the back is a sensitive area and it must not be pushed through an asana. In particular the lumbar spine, the lower part is an area where we hold much of our emotional tension and un-dealt with emotions. This area also holds any past traumas we may have experienced, some without even being aware of them. And slowly, they become accumulated in this area, creating a ball of tension. So learn to take it easy, focusing on where your body is at in the present moment and slowly work towards creating more space.
Sometimes during my classes, I see students so eager to get in a pose, even though their body is not ready. They continue to push through it, only to find themselves frustrated at themselves. Accept that there might be something that is resisting this dynamic movement and slowly learn to be open to let it go in your own time. This is one of the most important lesson in my opinion – assess if you are ready to go there, to open yourself without forcing it. Once your mind is open to the release, you will slowly find yourself more willing to try and adapt to the pose. It’s usually the mind that limits our ability to go further in a pose. But you must accept with no judgement towards yourself that at this point, your body is not yet ready to go into the asana fully.
OPEN YOUR HEART
Backbends require us to open our heart centre, anahata. This is our energy centre in the body where our feelings, self-trust and love reside. When feeling vulnerable, our first instinct is to hide this, becoming even more vulnerable through embarrassment and shame. During a backbend, we need to open this area of the body, meaning that we are facing our vulnerability and exposing it outward. In order to free ourselves from anything that is keeping us closed, we need to be open with our feelings. This can feel emotionally challenging for some, whilst for others it might spark a feeling of intense joy. Whatever you are feeling as you get ready to let go, just let yourself feel it.
Increase flexibility on the spine and release tension using the support of props. The yoga dharma wheel is one of my favourite props. It has so many different uses and it helps us to reach deeper into the asanas. Backbends can sometimes feel a little bit difficult because on a physical level they require increased flexibility of the spine and this is an area of the body where we usually hold a lot of tension in. But more so, on a energetic level, backends require us to face issues and neglected feelings that we have buried deep down in the lumbar spine. We also have to open the heart centre (the chest and the shoulders) and this can be a process for some. Facing our emotional self and letting go of blocked feelings and emotional tension can feel scary. So it's always important to be gentle with yourself, your mind and body, and to allow the body to open and let go when it is ready without forcing it. This is where the yoga dharma wheel can be very helpful. It provides us with support to the spine, and its circular shape helps us to slowly melt the body on it, creating the back bend.
Seated with hands behind the head
Start slowly, in a comfortable seated position. Rest your lower back on the dharma wheel. Bend your elbows and bring the fingers from both hands together behind the head. With every inhale, extend the spine a little bit more, while on every exhale lean back even further.
Deep opening of the shoulders
As the spine starts to let go of tension and extends further, the shoulder open more also. Flex your elbows and bring your hands to the dharma wheel, gently melting your head backwards on the wheel. (if you have low blood pressure, just keep head in its neutral position)
Bent knees and deep opening of