by Rachel Boddy
“I hate backbends”.
I said this in my head.
Out loud, to anyone who would listen.
To my mat.
“I don’t do backbends”.
Of course, there were physical limitations:
- Lack of flexibility in my upper spine
- Weak shoulders
- Tight hip flexors
When I first started yoga, I didn’t even like extending my neck or tipping my head back.
But the biggest obstacle I faced with backbends was in my head.
I was CONSTANTLY telling myself I wouldn’t/couldn’t/shouldn’t do backbends.
That was until I got pregnant with my daughter.
Around five months in, when my growing bump was competing for space with my internal organs, I felt a constant compression in the middle of my spine.
And the ONLY thing that relieved it was….
You guessed it: Backbends.
Even though I couldn’t do backbends my body was crying out for opening. For relief.
After the birth and post-natal recovery, I knew I had to make a mental shift.
I had to start accepting that backbends needed to be a part of my yoga practice.
They needed to be a part of my life.
Backbends can come in all sorts of variations, but the main benefits they provide are:
- Stretches the chest and lungs
- Strengthens the arms and wrists, legs, buttocks, abdomen, and spine
- Stimulates the thyroid and pituitary
- Stimulates the nervous system
So six months post-natal (January 2016), I decided to set myself the challenge of doing a backbend a day. This was a picture from day one (1 January 2016):
As you can see, SO many things wrong: knees over the ankles, feet turned out, elbows pretty much at right angles…
Not exactly the wheel like structure I was aiming for!
I committed to this challenge for about two months, when I realised the obvious: this wasn’t the solution.
My shoulder hurt (a previous issue exacerbated by breastfeeding) and pain radiated into my right wrist.
After some great physio, I had to take it back to basics:
- Open the hips
- Use props
- Progress gradually
With a commitment to getting this pose into my practice, I started to make the mental shift and started to make an effort, with my iPhone video as my guide and feedback.
Comparison videos became so important to me, even when I couldn’t really see a difference!
The top video is of me practicing backbends, using cork blocks and a strap, in September 2016.
The bottom video is of me practicing in March 2017.
Fast forward to early March 2017, and after three months in the Mysore room, drop backs were introduced to me:
After the first time doing this, I felt like my body was on fire. I was super warm all the time (in a good way). I felt this way for the rest of the week. It was like drop backs had literally ignited a fire in my body, that I hadn’t experienced with any other posture.
According to Kino MacGregor “Backbends thrust your full life force up through this central channel and burn through blockages along the way.”
Whilst I can’t practice drop backs at home (you should always introduce drop backs with the help of a highly experienced teacher), they have allowed me to explore what my body is capable of doing, and given me the confidence to keep pursuing them in my practice.