While teaching a yoga class Monday night I found myself concentrating on backbends. There is an appropriate backbend for every body to feel energized and refreshed. While extending backward the chest opens and increases lung capacity for deeper breathing while simultaneously stimulating the nervous system giving an overall sense of liveliness. I love all the variations from cobra to wheel and everything in between. It feels good in my body to stretch the chest and suck the thoracic spine inward while lengthening the hip flexors. But aside from the physicality of backbends there is the ethereality of love in the heart center. Truth be told that no one gets through life unscathed. Due to years of hurt and pain we guard our heart with hunched shoulders and put on an armor of tightness to prevent being wounded ever again. If we don’t open our heart back up and experience vulnerability we miss out on real connections with people, relationships and love.
I have missed out on many past relationships, romantic and otherwise, because I had the Great Wall of China around my heart and pride so strong that I couldn’t be moved with a forklift. It was as if I had taken a shot of emotional Novocain and my heart could feel no sensation. I now realize that, in the words of Shakespeare, “a life without love is no life at all.” Life is love and to not open my heart up to the people along my path is to turn down life itself. At some point the protection no longer serves a purpose and needs to be released so that love can be felt and life can be lived.
Now is the time to invite love and compassion into your life. Play with the vulnerability in camel pose while your heart is completely exposed. Allow grace to be present as you strengthen the entire backside of the body and feel your armor begin to fall off. Backbends are a way to practice opening up on the safety of your yoga mat. The next step is off of your mat and into your life! It takes more strength to be vulnerable than to be closed off and it takes more flexibility to release your pride than to bring your toes to the back of your head. Be strong, be flexible, and be alive.
Below are a list with photos of backbends to try after a warm up- typically of Sun Salutations. There are kneeling, belly down, and belly up variations to try. Listen to your body’s feedback as you approach each backbend with grace.
Cobra: this belly-down backbend opens the heart while strengthening the triceps.
Updog: lift the thighs off the yoga mat, lengthen the spine and gaze up beyond limits!
Bow: powerful legs are what create uplifting energy to stretch the chest.
Camel: stretch the shoulders and hip flexors in preparation for deeper backbends.
Kapotasana: intense lengthening and strengthening of the spine is the benefit of this elegant backbend.
Bridge: dig your heels into the ground and engage the backside of your body for strength
Wheel: engage every muscle in the body to expand in all directions.
Take time each day to practice a variation of a backbend and experience the openness in your physical body and in your heart! As you can see below you have many choices.
Written by, Michelle ploog