When was the last time you saw your back?
Pictures or reflections in a mirror don’t really count. Our backs are unknown territory. It could be a reason why backbends are frightening and exciting.
Evolution of back-bending.
Evolution granted us a frontal lobe. Fossil records shows that approximately one million year ago, the human brain suddenly began to grow at an incredibly fast rate. Some scientists speculate that the growth was fueled by a great ice age.
By the time glaciers were advancing, about eight hundred thousand years ago, humans had already migrated. In a way the ice age fired up our souls, and began fueling the growth within our skulls. All our thoughts, worries, knowledge and citta vrtti (mind-stuff) is right there. It comes in handy when looking for your keys or remembering your friend’s name. However, we tend to dwell too much in our minds and don’t pay attention to the rest of our being.
Yoga of back-bending.
Yoga helps us to focus our attention by quieting these fluctuations. We can say that a primary focus of practice is to quiet the activity in the frontal lobe. Being led by our frontal lobes, we also live our lives in our frontal bodies. We feed our minds through our senses. We look ahead to the known and leave behind what’s unknown.
Yoga is a process of moving from the known to the unknown or from the front of the brain into the back of the brain, and from the front of your body into the back of your body. Another definition of yoga is to attain what was previously unattainable. Going to the unknown and confronting your fears is a part of the yogic path.
Moving into a backbend requires trust and surrender on the psychological level, but also hard work and preparation on the physical level. You can easily strain your muscles, joints and nervous system. I see a lot of yoga practitioners with lower back pain resulting from the unprepared full wheel practice.
If you don’t feel comfortable, you should always opt out for easy and supported backbends. You can gradually work towards the full wheel over a long time. Assuming a student is physically fit and there are no limitations (tight hips and shoulders to name a few), I would ask the student to practice the same sequence for four to eight weeks to start noticing the progress.
A few common mistakes to avoid: Try not to push up by overusing your quadriceps. It puts more strain towards the head and shoulders and can cause rotator cuff injuries. Another common mistake is to turn out the feet and over-arch the lower back instead of using the hips.
I tend to repeat myself, saying the same thing over and over—just like any other endeavor, if you would like to be able to try to do Urdva Dhanurasana, you need to commit to practice for a long time and without interruption. Have faith in your journey and focus on the path. And practice for the sake of practice, abandoning the fruits. With this in mind, we might get out of our frontal lobes into the higher Self!
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Editor: Kate Bartolotta