Wednesday, March 21, 2012

7 Things You Need to Know About Backbends

When people hear about bending backward often visions of a contortionist with their head resting on their buttocks comes to mind. Bending back looks pretty tough; even a bit painful. A few years ago a student expressed feeling pain just by looking at the backbends postures on the wall at my yoga school in Toronto.

“Hm, I thought, they look good to me!”

But if the truth were told even for practitioners like me who have been practicing backbends for years know it is not so easy. For those interested in the practice here’s how to take backbends into your yoga stride.

The 8 things you should know:

1. Backbends shake you out of your comfort zone.

If we stop and think about it most (if not all) of our daily movements are limited to moving forward. Rarely do we spend time defying gravity by moving upside-down, backward or sideways. It just feels natural to bend forward. It’s also the obvious thing to do when picking something off the floor. However, backbends offer an exciting way to move the spine. This creates better balance between our normal activities and breaks-up the rigidity of the spine spent sitting for too long. It is a journey from our habits and into something not so familiar.

2. Keep your brain healthy and your heart active.

Medical studies have shown many people suffer from chronic back-pain. An interesting study conducted in an American university linked the effects of continuous low back pain to lowering the grey matter of the brain. Read ~ Losing Your Mind From Back Pain. Yoga Master B.K.S. Iyengar recommended backbending as a cure for depression. He also advised that backbends be used as a holistic alternative for heart patients. Because backbends stretch the heart they relieve tensions stored in the muscles and send off natural pain-killers. They may also cure depression and boost the immune system.

3. Backbends are a great teacher of life skills.
When we come face-to-face against our physical edge our minds our challenged. This presses us to develop patience or to drop-out. If we to stick to the task we will benefit from the practice in learning how to slow down as well as breathe. The practice also takes energy, devotion, will, discipline and care; all good things for life. And being true to life, backbending is no exception in that there are set-backs. Sometimes we stretch too much and need to learn our limits.

4. There isn't any traditional system of Hatha-yoga that omits backbends.
To name just a few of the traditional systems of yoga Sivananda-yoga contains the wheel (chakrasana), bridge (setu-bandha sarvangasana) and locust (shalabhasana) as its basic postures. In the primary series of Ashtanga-yoga the pickings are slimmer, but wheel still shows up. In AtmaVikasa Yoga developed by Yogacharya V. Venkatesha (check out ~, a full system of backbends is taught. These range from the crocodile posture (makarasana) to full locust (shalabhasana) to camel (ushtrasana), with a closing sequence offering both bridge and wheel.

5. A backbending class is a not just a class of non-stop backbends.
In the charming city called Mysore (perhaps more famous for being the home to the late Shri K. Pattabhi Jois), Yogacharya Venkatesh has been teaching for over 20 years special backbending classes to a handful of students at a time. His classes are not for the elite, but a wide range of older, stiffer bodies to younger and bendier ones. These classes are structured to suit individual need. As well, they are not just a class in non-stop backbends. Forward bends and other counter postures are given a lot of emphasize by holding them for double the time as the backbends. FYI: If you decide to go to Mysore you can only study under one teacher at a time (no cheating).

6. Backbends are uncomfortable but one way to work on the mind.
Frankly speaking, what can you honestly expect if you have never bent backward before? Notwithstanding medical issues or injuries backbends extend the entire spine and move the body laterally, forward and backward. They are challenging and no teacher should tell you differently. It's at that point the theory of the practice gets kick started. We practice to move beyond physical tension and use the 'breath' as the force. Is a misconception to think the practice is only about contortionism. There are some extreme and unusual positions, but that’s the means to a indirectly working on your mind. Remember: we use the body to work on the mind.

7. The practice never promised Cirque du Soleil.
In the end, the bud of yoga appears differently from one practitioner to the next. In other words, getting your feet to your head may or may not be your goal. And if it isn't does that make you less interested or insincere in your practice? No matter how the flower of the practice appears it is the promise of Patajalim's Yoga for growth. Of course, Patajalim never promised it would be easy. But we are guaranteed success with a consistent practice and a sincere effort.

If this sounds can see more on my youtube channel.

© The Yoga Way, Toronto, Canada 2012.

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