The Joy of Back Bends

I’ve always loved back bending. Ustrasana. Urdhva Dhanurasana. Eka Pada Rajakapotasana. Show me a sternum-cracking asana, and I will show you a very happy yogini.

But I know that there are also a lot of people who don’t like them. People who visibly cringe at the mere mention of them in class, and who decide that “back bending time” would make an excellent time for a toilet break.

And I get it, I really do. When we come to our yoga mat we are already at our most vulnerable – half-naked, sweating, seeking healing/god/refuge/revelation/clarity/relaxation/wholeness/you name it. And then we’re being asked to expose ourselves even more? It’s terrifying!

Because back bends are about heart opening. And opening your heart exposes you to the very real possibility of pain, hurt, fear and rejection. The good news is, it also helps to make us more receptive to love and joy, both giving and receiving. It helps us connect with others. And it helps us to find our true expression of ourselves.

Backbends predominantly target the middle chakras – Manipura/solar plexus; Anahata/heart; and Vishuddi/throat. These chakras relate to self-confidence and personal power; our ability to give and receive love, and connect with others; and our ability to speak our truth, to express ourselves openly and without fear. If these are areas in our life which challenge us, then naturally the back bending experience will be a confronting one.

But let’s think about this. These qualities relate to a balanced and happy chakra. These qualities, therefore, are our natural state. As Sharon Gannon, of Jivamukti Yoga says:

“You cannot do yoga. Yoga is your natural state. What you can do are yoga exercises, which may reveal to you where you are resisting your natural state. “

I’ve written before about the way that yoga forces you to face yourself, warts and all. Whatever is going on for you RIGHT NOW, will show up on your mat. The yoga journey is not easy, but it is a worthy one. Yoga is about finding our true self again. It’s about making us whole. And it’s about making ourselves into vessels of unconditional love.

So start small on your back bending journey. No one’s expecting you to bust out full Dhanurasana. Cat-cow, Bridge and Cobra are some simple and gentle backbends that will help to ease you into it. Fear may be present – it’s a normal response to trying something new. But remember that the opposite of fear is love. And it is love that will be waiting for you on the other side.


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