Backbends Are Not for P*ssies.

Via on Jul 8, 2012
Anne in pigeon backbend
Anne-Pigeon

Hey yoga teacher, let’s teach some backbends!

Backbends are scary.

Even long holdings of baby backbends, like belly down boat and cobra, are no easy feat. One must activate legs, buttocks, core, and engage lower traps while lengthening the spine and somehow manage to stay calm and breathe through it. A rockin’ hold of downward-facing boat impresses me more than any fancy-pants arm balance.

I have noticed that a good number of competent yoga teachers stay away from teaching bigger backbends. (I am talking about teaching these poses in the appropriate level yoga class, not gentle or beginners.) Wheels, upward-facing bows, camels, drop-backs from standing, etc. Maybe because these big shots require long warm-ups with ample standing poses, core work, and baby backbends to precede them. A deep backbend is merciless when done without properly heating the body, and as yoga teachers, we only have so much time.

Standing Backbend

Perhaps some yoga teachers avoid advanced backbends because of the potential for injury. However, it’s possible to keep them real and safe by using modifications for the students who aren’t ready for the full expression. A teacher of backbends needs to provide an intermediate place for the student who, for whatever reason, physical or psychological, cannot go for it. This modification has to be taught side by side with the bigger more dramatic backbend. It’s complex to teach someone how to go back intelligently and safely and coax them into the scary and unknown in just a few sentences.

A wise yoga teacher holds some students back so they can keep it true to their ability, while guiding those who are ready to take it all the way. The teacher of backbends is a seer, multi-tasker, coach and soothsayer.

There is always the question of how appropriate are these poses. My chiropractor says they are dangerous. A spine should never bend like that. Hmm…..really? I’m screwed. I love and hate danger. A lot of things we do in advanced yoga practices should not be done by anyone who doesn’t regularly practice yoga.

Backbends are beautiful. Big and small.

Even if you feel less than beautiful. It doesn’t matter. We can be miserable, shut down, whiny, sick, and selfish and still deserve this heart opening pose. When backbends are done in a way that is authentic and true they will show the path out. Or, how to accept the present moment.

In order to live from abundance and love, we don’t want to get stuck in that small place of lack, spinning stories about how this world is going to disappoint or how we are not good enough. A full and happy life is about belief in the self and trusting the process—especially when things are not going our way.

~

I am in a full room of people taking Bella’s yoga class. She is an exquisite teacher, not afraid of teaching anything, including backbends. Her chin-length hair is jet black, her eyes are green like a cat’s and her small body is strong and lithe. We all admire her and imagine that we are as beautiful and graceful as she is. We want her ease-the kind that comes with intelligence and strong discipline. It is halfway through the two-hour yoga class and sweat is glowing on our faces, arms, chests and backs. The practice has challenged us with lots of flowing from down dogs to planks and even headstands.

Bella leads us into standing backbend with the possibility of dropping all the way to the floor. In order to go there, you must be able to go back into what you cannot see. You must take care of yourself before you go back, engaging and lengthening the core because if you don’t, the back will ache sharply, your breath will catch, and you will retreat up to standing, unsure of what to do next.

I stand on the yoga mat with my legs wide apart. My feet are pushed into the ground and my thumbs are hooked around my lower back pressed into my sacrum. Bella asks us to inhale and lengthen our spines up to the ceiling and then she has us take a backbend. I lift my chest and drop my head back and become aware that I am looking up at the ceiling tiles and then at the yogis behind me. Slowly, I move my hands down to my thighs and even my calves and if I breathe a little more fully, I could bring my hands down to my ankles. I am deep. I could touch the floor but am not sure I want to. It might cut off my breath and feel like death.

Besides, I am not sure I could get back up.

I touch the floor anyways. I land. Physically and emotionally. I am earth and sky. My hands and feet hold down the ground. My heart and pelvis arch upwards in an offering.

My identity is wrapped up in this backbend. So much of who I am is in this moment. I am a woman, yogini, yoga teacher and yoga studio owner. My mind reels. Is my backbend good enough compared to Bella’s, compared to the other yogis in this room? Am I good enough? Am I worthy? Blah blah blah.

I know this way of thinking is destructive. A slippery slope. Not being enough, comparing myself with others, and feeling separate because of my perceived inadequacies is a long standing pattern. In standing backbend, I just tripped down my own dark alley.

Going into darkness is the easy part. Coming back into the light is the challenge. It takes my breath away. Requires me to catch a snake by its body and jump through fire.

Backbends are not for p*ssies.

Anne-Wheel

 

 

 

 

It is time for me to claim my power. When I let confidence, happiness and acceptance have a place, I must face the worthy, intelligent and competent woman I am.

I am a backbender. Vulnerable, strong and trusting. Today I may not be a binder, arm balancer, or twister, but damn, I am an awesome backbender. Even with my demons. When all else fails I can lean back into the unknown and touch the floor.

I have been practicing yoga for 15 years and still find myself in the shadows but almost every time I hit my mat I have a glimpse of the light. Thanks yoga teacher for leading that ass kickin’ pose.

Thank you yoga. Thank you backbends.

~

Editor: Brianna Bemel

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About Anne Falkowski

Anne Falkowski has been teaching yoga for fifteen years and has taught yoga to over thousands of students from all walks of life. In addition to teaching yoga, yoga teacher training and owning a yoga studio- Anne has published many articles on yoga. She is currently working on a non-fiction book. . Anne also unschools her two teenagers and snuggles with her six year old. Contact her at director@samadhiyogastudio.com

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14 Responses to “Backbends Are Not for P*ssies.”

  1. cathywaveyoga says:

    It is fun to read what people have to say.
    I am unsure what you rpoint is.. is it that yoga teachers should teach backbends.. or is it about your love of backbends?
    Or is there a message tha tto live from abundance we need to d oback bends? I advise against stating that people who dont do back bends dont live from abundance.. or are stuck in fear.

    • Anne says:

      I think all yoga teachers should teach some form of backbends. They have a lot to offer and I have noticed that sometimes power teachers shy away from them. I think all types of poses have something great to offer. I do not think that the only way to live from abundance is to practice backbends. And I do love them. But not always. Thanks for the comments and reading this article.

  2. Linda Abt says:

    Anne – thanks for the great article. Students come to class with all kinds of stories about what they can and cannot do. I am a very new teacher and my take away from the article is that it is my responsibility to help students move beyond self-imposed and perceived limitations. The fear of back bends is a perfect example of a category of poses that evoke a strong emotional response in students. Growth on the mat and in life occurs when we break through the fear and self-doubt and work toward mastery of the poses that scare us.

    • Anne says:

      I agree with you that we are guides to help students move into new territory in their bodies that scare them. That is why it is so important to have a bag of modifications or steps they can take along the way in the backbends until the student understands how to activate certain muscle groups while softening and lengthening others. Thanks Linda.

  3. Kristina says:

    Anne- your article gave me goosebumps. I have lived that fear of going back and not sure how I will reach for the light…both on and off the mat. But gifted teachers like you make it safe and poof, the fear subsides. Knowing that when I can't land on my own, you are there to catch me. Thank you.

    • Anne says:

      Thanks Kristina. It is important for a teacher to know that vulnerabiity that comes from going back and to have gone through that herself. Some students are a gift o catch.

  4. Jyotika says:

    Anne another well written poignant piece! You articulate so beautifully the complexity of what we all bring to the mat, our bodies yes, but also our hearts and souls, our strength and our wounded parts alike. To drop back into all of who we are, that is what we are called to. Thanks.

  5. David says:

    This is Anne's best to date — a complete package. She educated, demonstrated and inspired. Think I might go work on my camel now. . . . .

  6. sarah simmons says:

    I love reading about all that we share as people, teachers, harborers of doubt and being our own cheerleaders. Backbending is a must for a well rounded yoga class but is also scary not only for the student but probably more so for the teacher. Who wants to be responsible for injury? And backbending, as you beautifully wrote, goes deeper than that. It releases deep seated fears and emotions. It can create euphoria and exhilaration like no other. Thank u for sharing yet another revealing and poignant article.

  7. [...] Backbends Are Not for P*ssies. [...]

  8. cathy says:

    I get very scared when I read that a yoga teacher says their JOB as a yoga teacher is to move people beyond their perceived and self-imposed limitations. I get very scared.
    many yoga teachers have 200 hours of training.. not 2000. Limitations boundaries I can´t s are also besides expressions of sel-created limitations.. REAL information about a body. Some people have ahd surgery, some people have had injuries, soem arthritis, soem are simply less flexible. BE very careful to NOT judge anyone and decide and pronounce ¨this is your self-imposed´limit on any student. You can really hurt someone with this attitude and can create separation between you and students.
    The teachers job is to follow all ethics which include openness, creating space and providing instruction for students to move and attempt poses with clear instruction and modifications SAFELY:

  9. [...] aware, for instance, that when I drop back into a backbend—something I thought would be physically impossible for me because of the ruptured photo: ideowl [...]

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