Bodies aren’t always as they appear. I can do a handstand and some pretty advanced poses, but some of my foundational poses need work. Things don’t always line up “as they should” and it’s humbling.
My calves desperately need to be rolled and released. My quads need to be rolled, released, and stretched. My hamstrings & gluts need to be strengthened. My upper back needs to be released and strengthened. My chest and shoulders need to be stretched and opened.
I’m saying this stuff not as a judgement to myself, I love where I’m at. I’m writing this as a reminder to be more conscious of my body’s need for self care. I want to make time for these additional exercises in addition to my practice. After all, our body is our temple, and yoga is about creating space.
I’ve been doing Primary Series, which is all forward folds except for the backbends used as counter postures. I love Ashtanga and Vinyasa endlessly. Physically, my shoulders are rounded forward, and my scapulas lifted a bit off of my back. It takes a tremendous amount of effort for me to place my shoulder blades down my back for this “normal-looking” upper body posture. Like sooo much effort I can’t hold them there long! 🙈
In turn, all of the Chaturangas have done a number on my shoulder due to lack of engagement on my part. Ever since an anatomy workshop at DIG Yoga (thanks Naime!) I’ve been more focused on the alignment of my upper body, especially where to engage in Chaturanga. Before lowering from plank, squeeze your shoulder blades together to help keep your shoulders from rounding forward, lengthen the back of your neck, and of course, bring your navel to your spine. That’s just a little piece of the engagement that’s needed for this pose! This has helped change my mindset tremendously. I want to work with my body, not against it.
Here’s my new focus as of recent …As many times as I’ve heard this, it’s finally clicked (in my own body) that backbends are all core and I need them more than ever. In the past few classes I’ve taught, we’ve focused on opening the front of our body. Practicing controlled Camel drop backs is a great core strengthening exercise if they’re done correctly! Some students remain supported with their hands on their lower back, while others bring their palms to heart center.
Depending on strength and flexibility, place a block either in between your feet or a little beyond your toes. The block (in most cases) is placed at its tallest height. With your knees hip width apart, squeeze your inner thighs toward your midline. Imagine there’s a beach ball between your thighs and you can’t let it drop to the ground! Engage your gluts and your core. These are your stabilizing muscles. Lengthen the back of your neck. I love using the example Lara Heimann gave on Rachel Brathen’s podcast “From the Heart: Conversations with Yoga Girl”.. “Imagine someone has your ear lobes and they are pulling them back and up”.
Before you start to bend backwards, press the fronts of your hip points forward. Try to keep this action the entire time. Lift your navel up and in toward your chest. Lift your chest toward the sky. Keeping your lower back supported, softly backbend from your upper back, between your shoulder blades. Keep the space in the back of your neck before your drop your gaze toward your heels.
Only go as low as you feel you have control, because you have to come back up! Try lowering your head to the tap the block and then inhale back up. If you can’t reach the block yet..who cares! Nothing about your physical practice defines you. If you don’t need the block, tap your head to your toes, but don’t lose your engagement, that’s our main focus here! When you inhale back up to a neutral spine, make sure you move just as mindfully. Repeat this as many times as you would like. When you feel your body compromising, it’s time to take a break!
When you practice backbends, focus on the engagement of your quads, core, and gluts. That’s where you want to feel sore after backbending.👌
Don’t be afraid to try. Don’t be afraid to push yourself a little. I find a lot of us play things so safe because of fear. That doesn’t get us anywhere. Your mind will chatter all of the possible injuries/successes you can have as you try something new, but your body will tell you it’s true limits. You just have to listen. 💛