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Fearless Backbends

Break bad slumping habits and your resistance to backbends.

By Jason Crandell


Because we spend so much of our day hunched over a computer or moving forward, moving backward into a backbend is an unfamiliar feeling. And since our bodies and minds prefer to stick with the status quo, practicing backbends may trigger physical and psychological resistance. It's normal to feel frustrated, awkward, or even uncomfortable during your exploration of Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose) and other backbends. Resistance is a natural part of breaking habits and moving into the unfamiliar, so be patient and compassionate with yourself. You aren't alone in your difficulty. With a little patience, curiosity, and practice, you'll learn how to navigate through your resistance. Here are a few suggestions for dealing with aversion and difficulty in backbends.

Bear Witness: Without immediately responding, observe the range of feelings that arise as you practice backbends. If there is a sharp, localized pain in your body, stop immediately. However, if you encounter mild physical or psychological resistance, be with it.Try witnessing your response to difficult feelings. Not only will you begin to see that resistance passes and transforms, you'll learn mindfulness, which is at the heart of the yoga practice.

Slow Down: Many of us go too far, too fast in our yoga practice. We prefer to accelerate through the learning, sensing, feeling process, and skip straight to the doing process. If you're having difficulty in a backbend, minimize the size of your backbend until it feels evenly distributed and healthy. Remember, you are searching for an even, graceful arc, not a visual spectacle. Besides, it's better to injure your ego than your body.

Repeat Regularly: The only way to learn a new pattern in the body and mind is to practice it consistently. Do backbends that feel appropriate to you as often as possible. Incorporate them into your yoga routine and daily life. You can do small backbends—like clasping your hands behind your back, lifting your chest, and simply stretching—sitting in your chair at work, waiting for the train, or standing in line at the grocer.

Be Brief: It may be daunting to think about staying in a backbend for 30 seconds. But is it still scary if you hold it for, say, five seconds? Repeating your backbends more often and holding them for a very brief moment is an effective way to reduce your aversion.

Bask in the Bend: Backbends are thought to be energizing, uplifting, and stimulating. After you finish a backbend, take a moment as you breathe to notice if your energy has changed. You may notice sensations immediately after a pose or later in the day—it will vary from day to day.

Jason Crandell would like to thank Nina Zolotow for her expertise and guidance.
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Reader Comments


Re: Serena's comment
Just a slight correction--Bikram yoga is actually designed as a beginner's class, and meant to be suitable for ALL levels of fitness AND experience. The only exceptions to this are people who have specific doctor's orders not to exercise (generally) or in the heat (specifically). I find this to be one of the greatest strengths of the Bikram discipline, actually--it's one of the only, if not THE only, form that appropriately challenges everybody at every level.


Re: Serena's comment.
Recommendation is not something we should be cautious about. If I recommend something I am saying that it's good for me, it is my point of view. Others have to explore what is recommended and decide for themselves. What kind of world would we be living in if we had to be cautious about everything we say!


Hi Deena, whilst I thank you for taking the time to contribute your views, I would caution about recommending to others without knowing their bodies. It may be that you (and others you know) have benefited from the Bikram approach. This may be completely unsuitable for others, who would benefit more from a practice that is tailored to their level of fitness and experience.

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