“What is currently your favorite & least favorite posture to practice?”
A group of 10 teacher trainees sat in a circle and pondered our answer to this question that our guest teacher asked us. When it came time for me to respond we chuckled at the juxtaposition of my answer.
“Well, I really do not enjoy backbends but I love forward folds”.
The irony of my disposition at the time was that as a child I couldn’t get enough of dropping into a backbend hoping one day my legs would kick over into a back walkover. Though, I would always have to stand up from my backbend because I feared I wasn't strong enough to perform the back walkover. In yoga, a backbend is related to an opening of the “heart area”. We try to breathe space into the chest, sternum & rib cage. We live in a culture where we slouch at a desk, are hunched over a computer or dropping our shoulders forward and towards the ground with our gaze. It is no wonder that when I matured and took on the responsibilities of studying, work & surviving in our culture that I stopped practicing being so open. We subconsciously create a shield around our heart to make sure we are emotionally protected from outside forces so we can get through our day. Of course, this is a blanket statement for anyone who can relate with me on this matter. There are those who naturally or have put in the work to “draw the shoulder blades together” & “squeeze the chest and back”. They understand the benefits of vulnerability. If we constantly keep guarded with our shield, we don't only keep out the bad but we also keep out the good. Those who practice this beautiful technique of “heart-opening” serve as great inspiration for the path towards “love & compassion.”
Once I vocalized what was difficult for me in my asana practice, I questioned how I would overcome this “dislike”. The work was going to be challenging & difficult but I wanted to know what was on the other side of it. At the time, my outside activities off the mat were giving me great strength. Through I teacher’s instruction, I gave myself permission to be compassionate in my practice. That meant trading in chaturanga’s for gentle cobras. I relearned the simple engagement that would heal my shoulders & back preparing me for deeper backbends such as upward dog or full wheel. Now, backbends are one of my favorite parts of practicing Ashtanga yoga. It’s helped connect me with the importance of “softening” within our practice. Engagement is important within the practice but also breathing into those tight spaces we tend to cling to & learning to find some release.
The patience and progression of opening up step-by-step eventually resulted in a comfortable wheel. On the other side of all the work was returning to a childlike state where I can now drop back & stand up without the stresses of life weighing me down. Maybe that back walkover is just around the corner. I will remain open and present to the possibilities from a dedicated practice.