the yoga life, Yoga Poses
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Training with Kino: Fearless Backbends

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Backbends: that part of a yoga class that makes most yogis inwardly groan. Most of us are perfectly content to skip all and any camel like poses. And count us out entirely when it comes to Urdva Dhanurasana. There’s actually a scientific and emotional base for most people’s dislike of backbends. Yoga poses release a cascade of neurotransmitters (they cause those feel good emotions or the shock of adrenaline that gets your heart pumping like crazy) that usually leave us feeling euphoric after a yoga class. Backbends aren’t always so kind to us. The spine is massive network of neuroreceptors and neurotransmitters. Needless to say, getting the spine involved in a big way can release a tidal wave of emotions that can flood us with notsohappy emotions. We usually like to back away from these overwhelming experiences, so we avoid getting deep into our backbends.

Kino actually explained that these emotional blues are unavoidable in yoga, and hitting that wall is usually when people quit yoga. Introspection and discomfort isn’t usually what we sign up for when we embrace yoga. I actually wrote about how to get through these yoga blues here. It can be a miserable experience, but by embracing this process, we detox both body and soul at a rapid pace. We are forced to face some of our inner demons and perform an exorcism on them. We stare down our monsters and have the chance to slay them. It’s not a comfortable process. It’s a healing experience. Healing isn’t actually very comfortable…that’s why so many people never fully heal.

I think of burn patients that I’ve taken care of in the past, and to save both their lives and help in the healing process, they must go through an excruciating debridement process in which the burned, infected and unhealthy skin must be stripped off of their wounds. By doing this, the wounds are able to heal. The medical community recognizes this as one of the most painful processes at patient can go through, but it is the only way to allow true healing.

Aren’t you tired of living with deep, festering wounds? Aren’t you weary of fighting the demons in your head? I know I was, and that’s part of why I threw myself into the experience of yoga. I craved the healing process, and I gave all I had to this process. Healing isn’t a one time experience, and sometimes the same monsters we’ve a;ready slain can come back and try to take us down again. But if you conquer your issues once, it’s easier and easier each time you do it. Is it the backbend that  works the magic of healing or embracing the emotions and finding peace that creates the healing? I say both. Those backbends create a therapeutic ground where we get to air some of our deeper feelings and when we face them, we have the opportunity to honesty evaluate where they came from and why we’re holding onto them. That’s basically a good percent of what counseling is about, and yoga gives us a tremendous opportunity to find peace.

 It’s impossible to truly separate the emotional from the physical in yoga, so Kino spent a good bit of time encouraging us on how to embrace and even cherish the discomfort of backbends as they are both gateway poses to more advanced asanas and also a way to process our emotions. From a physical point, she emphasized safety and healthy techniques for backbends.

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  • Joints should NEVER hurt in yoga, anywhere in your body.
  • Discomfort is not the same thing as pain, and you should and must breathe through it with an equanimous mind.
  • If you feel a pinching sensation in the center of the lower back, you are compressing too much from the lower spine.
  • As you go into a back bend, think of it as actually a heart opener. Open up the chest, lift UP the spine, and push the pelvis forward.
  • As you bend back, continue to lift UP the spine, and bend back one vertebrae at a time.
  • Keep buttocks relaxed to avoid tension in lower spine.
  • Rotate shoulders forward to be able to safely release neck.

kino macgregor teaching backbends

Backbends actually require a great deal of flexibility in the shoulders, so a good tip to enhance your pose is to work on shoulder flexibility. The goal is to have your arms well aligned by your head in a comfortable manner. This is actually much harder than you might guess for the average person. Take a picture of yourself doing full wheel, and you might be surprised and how tight your shoulders actually are. It’s very difficult to get that straight up and down alignment unless you are very flexible. The tricky thing of course is that stronger your shoulders get, the tighter those muscles knit together, so we need to mindfully work on loosening them up.

 Regardless of a person’s experience level, each of us can benefit tremendously from backbend sequences. It builds strength and flexibility of both the body and soul. Have you experienced any emotional or physical road blocks as you’ve worked on backbends? What are some ways you’ve worked through them? If you have any tips or tricks, please feel free to share! Much love and namaste!

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