This week in my Anusara-Inspired® Yoga classes we are working on progressive sequences to Eka Pada Urdhva Dhanurasana. This is a full backbend with straight arms and one leg extended. It is a BIG pose with beautiful lines, one of my all-time favorites.
Backbends are exhilarating. They bring lightness and vitality to the body/mind that ward off lethargy and depression tendencies. The physical emphasis is on opening the heart, lungs, and chest (not bending the back as deeply as possible, which is a common misconception about backbends). One of my other favorite backbends is the supported Bridge pose where the hips rest elevated on a yoga bolster. It is total Bliss and we do it all the time in my classes in Restorative Yoga or to cool down in a vigorous asana class.
Someone commented yesterday that she can straighten her arms in reverse table top, but can’t find straight arms in the full backbend. She is a highly intelligent woman with a very strong and consistent practice. She understands yoga, but her current ‘block’ in the backbends does not surprise me. Backbends come with a certain amount of healthy fear-for you can’t see where you are going. Part of her resistance is instinctual caution—a wise and good quality that smart people have! Backbends require cultivating a trust in knowing ‘what’s got your back’. This is where the elements of consistent practice and engaging fully with your foundation come in to play.
I joke about my journey into backbends—my work is in cultivating ‘healthy fear’ and more controlled skill. I was the kid who was just fine with the Nestea plunge, or diving backward into the water. I have had to work on being cautious and to not go so fast and deep into unknown or unseen territory (not just in backbends).
Everybody can enjoy the benefit of these wondrous poses because their primary purpose is to bring balanced vitality to the front and back sides of the body. And the real measure of success of practicing these poses is not by how deeply one can get into the backbend, but how much easier sitting and standing and walking with a firm and upright back becomes. And we can all use a healthy dose of that!