April 7, 2015

My Breakthrough with Backbends.


I love flow yoga. I love backbends. Now I have deeply united the two and I love them more than ever.

In most flows, we are taught to match the inhale with a heart-expanding posture, and the exhale with forward fold of sorts. For example, the cat-cow flow: inhale drop the belly, lift the chest and the tail, roll the shoulders back and expand the heart wings; exhale squeeze the belly towards the sky as the head and tail roll down towards the earth, closing the front body.

I personally connect to this way of flowing with the breath, and for a while I thought it was the only way, or at least the better way.

Leslie Kaminoff, author of the incredible Yoga Anatomy, calls us front-ists: those who find it more important, beneficial, feel-good or whatever your reasoning is (maybe we all just do what the teacher says without thinking), to expand the front of the body during the inhale. 

At his workshop in Los Gatos, California, Kaminoff had us try a standing version of cat-cow, reversing the normal pattern of the inhale and the exhale. We inhaled into the backspace when we curved the spine forward, and exhaled to close the back and express the heart energy. He prefers this way because most lungs are actually located in the posterior half of the body.

This sort of breathing into the backspace is taught regularly in Lila Yoga, although our flows match the regular inhale-to-open-the-chest and exhale-to-surrender. One of my yoga teachers from Rishikesh, India once told me, “Whatever you learn, neither accept it nor reject it. Just let it sit and come to life on its own”. So I did just that. I put this suggestion in the back of my brain as food for thought and went along with my life as a teacher and practitioner. Then one day, weeks later, I was practicing Ustrasana, Camel Pose, an ordinarily challenging posture for me, especially testing my ability to keep the heart authentically lifted and expressive during the exhale.

Then, with a moment’s notice, Leslie’s voice appeared in my head, and I discovered the sensation in the back of my lungs. During the exhale, instead of trying to force the heart open, I contracted the backspace. And BAM! CLICK! BOOM! It made sense. I was able to keep the outpouring of energy and openness through the heart even on the exhale. My endurance and strength in the pose increased at least threefold.

During backbends, expand the heart on the inhale, and contract the backspace on the exhale. 

So maybe the yoga world is a bit frontist. Let’s unite our front and back. Let’s break the rules and explore the possibilities of doing exactly the opposite of what the teacher says.  

I don’t know about you, but breaking the rules makes me feel free!


Author: Ashley Szlachta

Editor: Caroline Beaton

Photo: Courtesy of author


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Ashley Szlachta