Mindful awareness

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Grateful for Backbends

A student requested that we work on backbends this week. She has tended to neglect those poses in her yoga practice out of concern out of not doing them correctly. I’m glad that she was aware enough to know that backbends done without correct alignment could create pain. The worst part is that experiencing injury in a pose or in any exercise might make anyone hesitant to continue a yoga practice or exercise routine.

So we worked on loads of backbends, from eka pada rajakapotasana (one leg king pigeon pose from low lunge) and bhujangasana (cobra pose) to urdhva mukha svanasana (upward facing dog pose) and ustrasasna (camel pose). We practiced many variations of salambhasana (locust pose) and both dhanurasana (bow pose) and urdhva dhanurasana (wheel pose).

The safety precaution we took in each of the poses is to generate length through the spine even before lifting into the back bend. Imagining the crown of the head reaching forward and the toes reaching backward helps to energize the muscles through the back and strengthen the space between the vertebral bodies, giving a foundation from which to bend. The back bend should truly be from the entire spine, not just the lumbar portion of the spine (low back).

We also worked to stretch the hips and shoulders before going into deeper backbends. These joints need to be flexible even more than the spine does to achieve a pain free backbend. Students also are surprised at how much leg strength is needed in a backbend. So we worked on strengthening the quadriceps muscles (front of the thigh) because these need to contract to find deeper expressions of dhanurasana, urdhva dhanurasana, and ustrasana. Injuries are more likely to happen if people take backbends without preparing the shoulders, hips, and quadriceps.

The intention we set throughout the practice was to experience gratitude. Moving into backbends opens our hearts up to the sky, a great way to breathe gratitude into the heart center. However deep our pose was on the mat during that class, our bodies were working hard to coordinate flexibility in the front of the hips and shoulders, strength in the front of the thighs and strength in the muscles along the spine to create the expression of the pose we found at that moment. Our bodies are amazing and always give us so much for which to be grateful. Even in days we are ill or injured, even when seasonal allergies are acting up, for the most part we need to find gratitude for all our bodies do for us.

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