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.