In this week’s classes we explored back-bending yoga asanas (postures) and their many benefits.
Of course there are the physical benefits of backbends. We spend so much of our daily lives sitting hunched – driving, on the computer/tablets, on our phones, shielding ourselves from the rain and wind (in the UK at least!), that it is essential to counter this with back-bending asanas.
Backbends maintain the natural extension of our spines, even increasing this mobility. They strengthen the spinal muscles. They stretch our hip flexors which can be tight from too much sitting. Countering poor posture simply feels good to do! They can feel freeing!
However, just because they might feel good, doesn’t mean that they are without their challenges. In stressful situations, our tendency is often to close up physically, protecting the vulnerable heart space. Backbends are the opposite to this, and can therefore feel quite exposing. It can take courage to practice backbends particularly when we are feeling vulnerable. On a physical level, we are moving our body in a direction that we cannot see (behind us!). If we can’t see where we are going then we are bound to be nervous! Isn’t that the same in life too? Yet this building of courage on the mat can help us build courage off the mat too.
On an emotional level, backbends create an opening in the heart chakra (Anahata chakra) (the centre of feeling) allowing us to be more open to our own emotions, experiences, in our relationships etc. When we are physically ‘open’ this in turn can allow us to feel more emotionally and mentally open.
So, clearly backbends are beneficial to us but when practising them it is important to be aware that ‘opening up’ in this way may release stored emotions due to the challenge of backbends. It is not uncommon to experience fear, apprehension, frustration, self-criticism, even annoyance or anger. Our aim here is to notice what is cropping up in our thoughts and feelings but without judgement of them or judgement of ourselves. Simply allow these thoughts and feelings to come and go. They always pass. Ultimately, it is beneficial to release these stored emotions, whatever they are.
Of course, it is necessary to practice backbends safely, and the good news is that, like all asanas (poses), backbends can be modified so that everyone can enjoy the benefits of these wonderful asanas! Backbends can be as gentle or as deep as is comfortably available to us, and of course it is always essential to mobilise the body before attempting backbends and to only move within a pain-free range of motion. All our bodies are different and we must always practice with satya (truthfulness) and ahimsa (compassion) to our own bodies and our own abilities. Your yoga teacher will help guide you so that you can experience the benefits of backbends.