Have you been struggling to do Chakrasana, Kapotasana, or Ustrasana despite having the strength and flexibility? Is this the fear?
Why is it so fearful to fall into back bends vs forward bends?
Forward bends are something that we perform quite often in our day-to-day activities and also one can see where they are falling and have the security to land their palms safely versus in backbends which is not so the natural movement of the body and at the same time there is no visibility of where someone is falling and so there is always a fear of falling into the unknown. Most of us have this fraught relationship to backbends where the struggle is not only limited to flexibility and strength but also with our judging minds and grasping egos. These heart-opening postures demand a lot of physical as well as mental strength as it feels like a pandora’s box unleashing confusion, attachment and fear. Backbends are the ultimate opportunity to experience Yoga in its fullest form, as this practice works on body and mind in equal measures
Emotional resistance of backbends
In the classic Patanjali Yoga, the suffering we experience during backbends is somehow connected to the five Kleshas or mental afflictions which are outlined in Patanjali Yog Sutras as avidya (ignorance), Asmita (identification with the ego), raga (attachment), dvesha (aversion), and abhinivesha (fear, specifically of death). Anyone who is constantly experiencing fear and aversion will feel it in their body, as they experience tightness around their heart and diaphragm. We all know that when we feel strong and confident, our body opens up for new possibilities and when we feel fearful, we go into the fetal position slumping forward and rounding our shoulders as that is the safest position where we feel protected. This is another reason why forward bends are not fearful as we find our safe house there. For one to be emotionally ready, just sit with yourself and observe the thoughts, the feelings, the emotions that arrive when you are even thinking of getting into a backbend. Embrace these kleshas with love and compassion, be more aware of what is going on inside of you without any judgment or criticism and you will see great progress in releasing any emotions that interfere while doing this posture.
How to prepare yourself for backbends?
- Healthy spine : Our spines are made to move in six different directions forward, backward, side to side and twisting both sides. The spine acts as the base of our central nervous system and is a physical location of the major energy centers within the pranic body. So mindful movement of spine will surely encourage healthy flow of energy. Some of the postures that should be performed regularly are cat and cow pose, marichyasana B, seated side bend etc.
- Do some active backbends: Backbends are not only about stretching the front body but also about strengthening the back muscles around the spine. Some of the postures that you can do are cobra pose with hands off the mat, locust pose, and upward bow pose without holding your ankles. Doing these active backbends will make you feel strong and boost your confidence to get into some deep backbend posture
- Rise into backbends before falling: This is very important to note, as we look at Instagram videos and try to directly fall into backbends. This will only increase the fear and may injure your lower back. So try to rise up in backbends, example for chakrasana, lie on the floor with knees bent, place the palms under your shoulders and lift up, practice this and try to stay for a good 10-15 breath
- Understand where you need to be more flexible and work towards that: Chakrasana demands a lot of flexibility of your front body including your quads, and psoas. So do some postures that will lengthen these muscles like lizard pose, low lunge side bend
- Start slow on falling back: As it is a lot to do with the mind, start slow. Especially in chakrasana, try to fall back having wall support and then come back up. This also may not be easy for may to go all the way down, but it will give you an idea of where the body is resisting and you can then work towards the same
- Always keep your lower back safe: Tuck your tailbone down and keep moving your hips forward, this will give less pressure on your lower back and you will only bend from your upper back.
Don’t forget to breathe: Last but not the least don’t forget to breathe. An asana is considered to be comfortable when one finds that stillness in the moment which occurs by gaining control over the breath.
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