Friday, June 21, 2013

Q & A with Heather Part 3: Backbending

The last of a 3-part series from student questions on backbending. The question is: 

"Sometimes I experience waist pain after backbending practice. What am I doing wrong? I also have pain while preparing for advanced inversions." 

There are many factors that could be attributing to this. However, it is not always about doing it wrong.
First, let’s look at what kind of pain it is. There are different kinds of pain and not all pain is equal. Pattabhi Jois used to say, “little pain today, gone tomorrow”. Sometimes that little pain is a lot of tomorrow's later, however. While pain is often an indicator of the muscles and joints having been stretched physically beyond their known limit it is not always best to ignore it. Some pain is  normal and part of the process. Yet, determining what is good and bad pain is an on-going process and a learning curve. To think of pain as any kind of perquisite to the 
practice is not always wise. 

There are 4 suggestions you can work with that will help you determine what kind of pain it is (good or bad). As well, it will lead you into another dimension of your practice with a different understanding of the pain itself. Pain as Patajalim wrote in the Yoga Sutras is a mental modification. It is not so much the pain, but how we learn to respond and react to it. 

Read more here  

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Q & A with Heather Morton Part 2: Backbending Yoga

This is the second question from a student and teacher of yoga whose question was, 'How do I protect my lower back in a deeper backbend of yoga?'

Here's the post on Hello Yoga: Japan's Yoga Community. I have broken done the elements of this question into five essential components. Before we talk about anything it is important to define what is backbending. In other words, I am confident the word "backbend" brings up many different ideas and images for everyone. Understanding the full practice of backbends, which really is a lot more than just bending backward is helpful to moving forward into the practice. It dismantles many of our assumptions, fears and misconceptions about backbends.

The second part is about your personal practice. Here, I suggest ways to develop a practice that works for you by accessing both your strengths and weaknesses. The third section is about the counter postures of yoga, which are a fundamental part of backbends. In the fourth section, I talk more specifically about self-preservation or what we can also call fear. There are many tangible ways to work with this during your practice. The final part is a recommendation and a reminder that Yoga is not just about your body. It has been said many times that we are using the body to work on the mind. Backbends offer this great opportunity to focus more on breathing as they bring to the surface in a real way how much we tend to think of bending and breathing rather than breathing and bending.

Enjoy. Send a message on facebook, write a comment here and/or watch one of my videos featuring the sun salutations of backbending yoga. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Q & A with Heather Morton Part 1: Backbending Yoga

Featured on Hello Yoga: Japan's Yoga Community under Yoga Knowledge: Backbending Q & A with Heather Morton, part 1. This series was inspired by questions that came from my facebook followers on backbending. The first question is how to begin the practice, but more specifically how to learn to drop-back from standing into the wheel pose. Click the link for a youtube demo. Enjoy the article.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Lifting, Breathing and Countering your Practice

                                                Chakorasana (bird on a crescent moon)

I love the name of this posture, because to me it represents the lightness of a bird and the magic of lifting up to reach the stars and moon, and to sit there! Feeling like this in the posture, however, is truly difficult since this position is not that easy.

It is not part of the traditional AtmaVikasa series but a posture I learned to incorporate into backbending yoga. In fact, it is a pose I used to counter some of the deep backbends with and was a natural progression from my practice after many, many years. I also like this pose because it is like 3 separate  parts that come together to make a unit. Here's a practice way to dismantle it so you can test it out for yourself:

1) Opening the hips is key to single behind the leg pose. This pose opens the low back, chest and knees! A solid way of working towards this is learning the splits, baddha konasana and half lotus forward bend. I've made several youtube videos that focus on this, one of which is called 'Opening to the splits'. Click the link to watch it.

I also feel that  half lotus is a requirement first because of the pressure on the knee. There are a lot of great ways to prepare for this, which does not come from bending your knee into the posture. I personally did a lot of work on my legs and hips before lotus. Here's one exercise that also strengthens your stomach. This posture is called supta padangushtasna (it's great for your legs). Working on your legs will help lengthen the muscles and gives you more space to make the rotation in the hips when the time is ready for lotus or called padmasana.  See the link above.

2) Arm strength. Believe it or not the hardest part is opening the hips. A lot of this pose is more about balance and leverage. However, solid planks, arm pressure pose and other arm strengthening poses will help you a lot. Some postures that will indirectly give you the power and the confidence are headstand and variations as well as crow pose.

3) Once you have the leg behind your head and feel comfortable you can move to the next stage, which brings the posture together. Practice just to lift your pelvis upward and hold. Once you can hold for 5 breathings, you can easily shift the pelvis forward while bringing the leg toward you.

This video shows you this transition including a more advanced way of entering another arm postures called astavakrasana

It takes time, patience and practice. I am a believer that many people can learn to do this, but again opening the hips can be a a few years. I myself worked for 5-6 years on lotus, forward bends and even twists to open the outer hips! Failing any injuries or knee issues when your back opens the leg goes too! The rest is practice and finding your balance. It's kind of like when the student is ready the master appears.

More instructional videos on basic postures of the AtmaVikasa system can be found on my youtube channel.

Happy New Year: 4 Things to Do All Year

The first day of 2013! It's a bit dull over here, but no reason to be down. I've made a list of the FOUR things that will help start the year off great. These are, however, valid for all the way through the year so just because you didn’t get started on any of them yet does not mean it’s too late!

1. CLEAN up your computer.

Something I have personally been meaning to do and will do. How much stuff we store that is truly slowing things down (that's a no-brainer). It is of course good to make a regular habit out of doing this more than once a year, but if you are like me you might let things pile up a bit.  I have too many photos on my desktop and files that could be sorted out better. While I was growing up my brother used to make fun of me for spending so much time organizing! However, there really are good merits in such acts because even the act of organizing your desk, your office and your room makes you feel clearer mentally and more on top of things.  


Yes, since moving to Europe I’ve had the opportunity to really spend some quality time in my kitchen. Something that as a small business owner and teacher I did not have the time for at all! I never cooked my own cookies from scratch, soup from my own vegetable stock, attempted to pickle my own kimchi and lots of other fun foods. I am not an expert by any means, but have learned as I go and get better each time! Cooking is a true spiritual practice that is good for your body and soul.

Here's a link to one of my cookie recipes

3. Breathe and MEDITATE.

A lot of people think just because they can't spend hours and hours on it you won't get very far. This is actually not the case. Spending even just 2 MINUTES is going to change your mood, mind and feelings! One of my teachers Swami Veda Bharati said 2 minutes is really good! So take the time when you are in car, riding the sub-way, standing in a line waiting, cleaning your house or any other mundane activity!
Find your ‘out’ breath and focus on it slowly leaving your nose. Then as you inhale let it slowly come into your awareness. Repeat the cycle feeling the genuine greatness of exhaling and how the inhalation is filled with a new moment, life and vitality. Let thoughts pass and slowly focus on making both the ‘out’ and ‘in’ slow and steady. See how much better you’ll feel at the end and it was only 2 minutes!   

4. Let Yourself DREAM. 

                                         View from a castle hill in Alsace, France. 

Open a new word document now. I'm a BIG fan of keeping a journal or a log. Write down the things you like, love and want to do! Go outside and take a look at the sky! How often we even to forget to look up especially if you don’t live near a beach, the water or in the country. The sky, however, is always there and it’s beautiful. Take a moment to let your mind enjoy the different shades of the sky. By doing so it allows the more intuitive parts of the mind to rise and inspire you.    

Happy 2013 to everyone...! Thank you for following and thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

BB (backbending) Q & A with Heather Morton

Lilu Trapecista asked:  

"Sometimes I experience waist pain after backbending practice. What am I doing wrong?" Lilu also mentioned having pain wihle preparing for advanced inversions.  

There are many factors that could be attributing to this. However, it is not always about doing it wrong.

First, let's look at what kind of pain it is. There are different kinds of pain and not all pain is bad. Pattabhi Jois used to say, “little pain today and gone tomorrow”. Pain is often an indicator that the muscles and joints have been stretched physically beyond their ‘known’ limit. This is normal and a part of the process. However, determining what is actually good and bad pain can be tricky. And by the way, by no means is pain a perquisite to practice either!

Assuming this not a pain of warning (usually sharp and takes you by surprise) but an achy kinda sore feeling it is often part of the process. The best thing to take a look at is what and how you are practicing. My teacher Yogacharya (a backbending expert in Mysore) used to say pain comes when you are not fully foucsed on your breath and your gazing points. We might think we are breathing during the practice but is it natural or a forced breath? Or, just something we are mechanically doing?

Suggestion#1: Practice to observe your breath both before and after a backbend. Practice to gradually even out your breaths so that it’s calmer and steady. In backbends the breath does tend to get rapid and harsh. If you focus on exhaling you can learn to slow it down.

Pain can also arise when the practice series is not correct or right for you! When specifically practicing how to do backbends and improving your practice it is really beneficial to counter the practice with other postures. These are twists, forward bends and neutral poses.  

Suggestion #2: Practice forward bends, sitting and spinal twists. These are held for twice as long as backbends. This is the system I learned under my teacher Yogacharya. If you are doing more than 3 backbends without a counter pose you may need to incorporate a few counter postures. The vinyasa of cobra pose to down-dog and jump or sit is excellent.

It is easy to forget that backbending is not just about your back! It is all about lengthening the front of your torso, opening the chest and shoulders as well as lifting upward from the pelvis girdle. When pain arises this is a sign that some muscles have overstretched while others have under-stretched. In backbends the pressure can go into a weaker area first. Being aware of this you can make adjustments that will give you more relief.   

Suggestion #3: Practice to bend from your hips and not your waist. In standing backbends use the practice sequence of placing your hands on your waist (re: thumbs facing toward your spine). This will protect your waist and allow you to understand how to lift upward. This same movement is repeated when we bend forward (re: pulling in the low belly and extending forward).

When learning to do more advanced postures like a backbend from a headstand, handstand or scorpion, the pressure tends to go directly into the lumbar and dorsal muscles. To counter this the shoulders need to draw back, the chest to expand and the legs are active.

Suggestion #4: Practice lengthening upward with your legs and toes. Keep this lengthing as you bend backbend. When we start to bend backward while upside down the counter direction is forgotten. Keeping this 'tension' will maintain the stretch from the hips and through the torso. It is also really helpful to give more pressure into your arms. Resist the pressure from the hips while being upside down. This creates a lot of strength too! 

Try these suggestions. The counter sequencing is especially important in developing a balanced and full practice. The more the body moves sideways and forward this will enhance the backbending sequence. 

And the pain may arise as a nice opening and fuller extension. 

* Not all movements are recommended foe everyone. Consult a trained teacher or medical doctor before beginning any exercise program. The content and information is for educational purposes from Heather Morton (The Yoga Way). Any use of the material, advice and instructions is at your own risk.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

HELLO YOGA - part 2 (Upper Back)

Learn how to open your upper back. This is a non-traditional sequence that builds flexibility in the upper back. It is a good prep for the traditional backbends such as makarasana (aka when the legs come up and off the ground) known as the crocodile.

Read it on HELLO YOGA ~ The Japan's Community of Yoga. Re: Backbending Techniques