Backbends . . .
All facets of the yoga journey are important. Within the aspect of asana, there is the preoccupation with looking good in a pose. Yet, many practitioners are not receiving the basics of alignment and stabilization in asana. In particular, the specifics of aligning the body against gravity are rarely visited. From my point of view, backbends are an extremely important aspect of asana. The muscles that are targeted in back-bends are the very muscles that keep the body upright and in alignment with respect to the influence of gravity. Back-bending is daunting physically, mentally and psychologically. It can bring to the fore parts of the individual that, typically, go unnoticed. Back-bending, then, can be an asset in bringing unity to the individual.
There are eight steps within the practice of yoga . . . nine if one counts transcending them all. Yet western yoga focuses mainly on one of these steps . . . two, if one is exposed to an instructor who can delve beyond the first one. In addition of the two steps, asana (the predominant one) and pranayama (the other step), there is the step of meditation, which is higher up in the progression of yoga journey and is more of a personal journey. The specific focus will be on asana. Asana directly affects the physical body. Asana affects other aspects of the body: i.e. causal, astral, mental, spiritual etc. What will be promoted here is that backbends are extremely important for well being of the physical body.
Of the classes that have been attended personally, not much attention is given to stabilization in a pose. It is more of the pose is stated of the positioning is described but not much explanation on the subject of ‘what makes the pose happen’. For the most part, individuals in a class do have a grasp on what is being presented. Yet, the question is ‘is the focus on performing a pose. The energetics of the pose, contemplating that while practicing, feeling that energy flow is what the practice is all about. The practice of yoga is about transcending the mundane and not about fixating on the mere physicality of existing.
The basics of what makes back-bending asanas so practical is not usually addressed. The may be a backbend or two thrown into a class flow. Yet, it typically depends upon the class participant’s understanding of what makes backbends happen in order to execute them. The backbend calls into play all of the musculature (posterior chain / PC) that keeps the body upright against the pull of gravity. Thus, back-bending can be a key contributor to navigating through life with minimal acquiescence to influence of the said gravity. Most backbends innervate the PC (Kapotasana, Dhanurasana) and others are more geared toward opening the front of the body (Urdvha Mukha Svanasana, Standing Backbend).
For some, back-bending can be a challenge. It is a maneuver that must be felt during the act of performing it. The movement calls for using parts of the body that are rarely seen. There is an emotional disconnect with the back of the body. In addition, many activities that are regularly performed are done so under gravitational influence. The musculature that is required for efficient back-bending, for many, has undergone weakening and lengthening affects. The muscles will need to be retrained to bring about the toning of those musculatures and derive benefits associated with back-bending.
Back-bending can also benefit the individual on the mental and psycho-spiritual levels as well. The daunting-ness of the unknown, the unfamiliar can be mitigated through regularly incorporating back-bending into one’s routine. Also, back-bending is energizing and it is good for combatting depression. In a world where the populous is predominantly forward facing and has their heads buried into a phone, computer screen or such a similar object, back-bends can assist in improving bodily integrity by strengthening weak posterior muscles. This leads to improvement in posture. Back-bends develop the ability to be and become more introspective.
There are precautions that must be observed when embarking on the back-bend journey. Many in todays society are posturally challenged and are not able to dive headlong into back-bending. Beginners and those who are less flexible within their capacity. Ustrasana and supported back-bends would be excellent choices for beginning back-bends. Heart Trouble, High Blood Pressure, Menstruation or other serious illnesses would be situations mandating serious caution. Ideally, one would be receiving guidance from an experienced yoga instructor.
Be aware of your practice, your attentiveness, your movement through your reality. Your yoga practice can enhance all of these aspects of being. Specifically, backbending can bring to the fore those parts of self that do not fall within the purview of day to day existing. Your awareness will become more energized through the use of backbends.