Bend Over Backwards by Lauren McLaren
Bend Over Backwards … for yourself
Whenever that phrase, ‘bend over backwards’ emerges from someone’s mouth, it always sends up warning lights that signal sacrifice, hard work and generally unpleasant disruption – usually with little thanks for the effort. You know the type of effort I mean: at great inconvenience you’ve moved out of your bedroom so your Mom will be more comfortable while she visits, and all she does is complain about the size of the bed. All that effort and so little reward.
There are many aspiring yogis out there who get those same warning signals when it comes to the practice of backbends on the mat. After all, backbends demand that we open ourselves up, exposing our pink underbellies to the world and taking all the risks that this kind of vulnerability presents. There is no denying that backbends can be tough stuff. They demand strength in the core muscles that we might not have expected. They also require a certain length in the tissues of the groins, notably the Iliopsoas. Finally, backbends demand that we open our hearts stretching the muscles of the shoulders, chest and arms to achieve that flexibility in the spine. Add to that, the relative challenge of postures like Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel) and Matsyasana (Fish), and it’s no wonder that with the mention of backbends, some yogis suddenly realize they need to refill their water bottles or have to urge to use the rest room at just that moment.
If this sounds like a familiar scene, don’t head for the door just yet; there is good news. Bending over backwards doesn’t have to mean all pain and no gain. In fact, the practice has little to do with going into ‘the most gloriously deep backbend’ ever (Stevens, p.197). Instead it is about the process of opening the front of the body, encouraging the smooth flow of energy and breath, and stretching the torso in ways that are deeply invigorating – something we can attain even in less intense postures like Bhujangasana and Setu Bhandasana. More good news: keeping the spine limber makes for a lot less back pain. With the practice of even mild backbends like Cats and Cows, the spine explores a great range of motion, the discs between the vertebrae stay plump and healthy and the many layers of ligaments in the lumbar spine enjoy the benefits of movement.
If all this isn’t enough to convince you, here’s one more reason to start back bending with joy. These postures present us with a unique opportunity to cultivate compassion for ourselves as we open our own hearts, accepting with equanimity whatever depth we can sustain in any posture. So go ahead, bend over backwards, and love yourself for it!
Join Lauren McLaren for her Get Energized with Back Bends Workshop on July 21st 1:30 – 3:30pm. Click HERE for more information and to register.