Back bends are one of my favourite classes to teach because students always end feeling energised and relaxed with beaming smiles. It’s a sure sign that something dormant has suddenly come alive in them and like a flame lit, it will never die. As a teacher that gives me a buzz.
You may have heard the saying that ‘you’re as old as your spine‘ and it’s certainly true of the modern office or home lifestyle where sitting is our predominant posture. Our bodies have been physically conditioned into a malady of forward head posture, rounded shoulders and maligned lumbar (lower) spine. Anyone complaining of lumbar pain will be sure to have weak gluteus maximus (buttocks), overly tight hamstrings and a drastically shortened ilio psoas (hip flexor). In compensation, to relieve lumbar pressure, the thoracic (chest) vertebrae curls forwards excessively, as do the shoulders. This inevitably leads to a burning pain and stiffness between the shoulder blades (sore rhomboid muscles) or neck or both. Over time our spine is less and less able to rejuvenate itself and we begin to lose height from the excessive curvature as well as a dwindling life force. But that’s only if you do nothing about it.
The beauty of back bends is that it doesn’t take much to begin putting things right.
Bhujanasana (Cobra Pose)
1) The simple act of laying prone (tummy down) lift your chest off the floor with support of your hands begins to strengthen both supraspinatus and gluteus maximus whilst correcting spinal curvature. 2) Squeeze your shoulder blades together by contracting your rhomboids and contracting your teres major and minor muscles to draw your shoulders down, away from your ears.
“Open your heart, big and bright!” as I always encourage my students to do
Ustrasana aka Camel Pose
Camel pose begins to introduce hip stability into our practice through contraction of our adductor muscles (inner thighs). When we kneel hip-width apart and squeeze our adductors to turn our inner thighs to the back of the room, we help to relieve pressure on our sacro-iliac joints (base of the spine). To help find stability use a block to squeeze between the thighs.
First, inhale placing thumbs on sacrum at the back of your hips and draw your elbows together behind you. Second, exhale, pushing your hips forward, contracting your gluteal muscles. Third, allow your head to reach back in spinal hyperextension to open up the front of the chest and the anahata chakra. Oh let your breathe take you deeper into the pose.
When you’ve got that base, work into Camel in thesethree steps.
As we advance through our practice in time,
chakrasana (wheel pose) the first of the full back bending asanas, can become part of our daily practice.
* Together with the adductor and gluteal contraction, shoulders play a huge role in performing this asana safely. Elbow alignment is crucial, so begin with placing your hands in line with your shoulders and ensure that your elbows are over your hands. * If your elbows splay out, you need to work on your shoulder flexibility before attempting chakrasana. When you have that flexibility, you can perform chakrasana safely and easily. For full support on how to perform this asana, I recommend you attend a class and to learn how to teach others to perform it, or join our yoga teacher trainings.
The enlightening power of chakrasana is profound. Breathe into the peak of the pose, not a short sharp breath but a deep, slow breath that fills your tummy and the cavity in your ribcage with light. It is said that it opens all seven chakras, healing wounds from old relationships and giving opportunity for new love. Coming back to resting on your back, your heart will be thumping in the energised state of being alive.
Don’t worry, your nervous system has charged your heart to fill your body with the life force that courses through your blood. That’s why students always finish smiling, revitalised and full of life.
Learning how to properly get into and out of asanas requires understanding to each pose, and the best way to learn is through a workshop, or yoga teacher training. Feeling Soul Good hosts annual Yoga teach trainings in both Bali and India