Forget about pushing higher and harder. The key to backbends is to focus on an even spinal curve.
Tell the truth. You've been in the midst of a backbending practice and felt desire flood your entire being. It made your heart beat fast and your eyes freeze with intense focus. It drove you to bend back with all your might until your groins hardened, your thighbones pushed up and out, and your lower back arched too deeply. Later that day, the adrenaline rush long gone, you felt drained, spacey, and loaded with lower back pain.
Backbends are exciting, and it's normal to crave a deep, gorgeous arc in your spine, but pushing yourself too hard isn't worth the heartache—or backache. Rodney Yee, who created the sequence that follows, offers this simple advice: Create evenness in your spine by imagining that it's like a wheel. To do this, Yee advises pressing the thighbones back toward the hamstrings and then tucking the tailbone slightly. Experiment with this action in your backbends and you'll begin to notice that it keeps your lower back long and free from compression. Also, avoid overbending your neck; allow it to be a natural extension of the rest of the spine rather than lettting it hang back listlessly.
By following these instructions, you will also increase the flow of prana toward your heart, or the fourth chakra. Yee likens the heart to Grand Central Station: "You want everything to flow through it. When you overbend anywhere in your spine, it's like creating a kink in a garden hose. You block that energy flow." But if you align yourself properly, you can bring energy into your heart chakra, which B.K.S. Iyengar calls the seat of the soul. When you do this, Yee says, "you'll have the euphoria afterward but not the adrenaline crash. There'll be an energetic clarity instead of an energetic blasting."
Before You Begin
Yee recommends doing whatever is necessary for you to feel mentally and physically settled before the sequence. If you're feeling agitated or full of energy, start with Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand) or do a sequence of standing poses. If you're feeling quiet, chant or simply sit in meditation for a few minutes.
1. Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose), variation
Fold a blanket so that it is 3 to 4 inches wide. Roll up one end to the size of a grapefruit. Place it 3 inches below your navel, and lie on top of it so that it is between your hip points and above your pubic bone. Relax and drape yourself over the prop. Then notice how it supports your lower back: As it presses into your belly and makes it hollow, the low back will lengthen, your tailbone will drop, and your heels will turn away from each other. Next, place your hands on either side of your chest and begin to slowly press up to Cobra Pose. Wiggle your spine to get any kinks out, then make the arch in your spine as even as possible. Repeat several times, staying for 3 to 5 breaths each time.
2. TV-Watching Pose
Place your hands under your chin as you lengthen your torso and legs away from your head. Experiment with the placement of your elbows (closer to or farther from your chest). As you stay here for 5 to 10 breaths, allow your entire spine to deepen into your body while the muscles of your back spread wide. The backbend of your lower back should match the curve in your neck.
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