Backward Bends to the Rescue

The move that changes my life –both inside and outside the yoga room.

In class we are told all the time that Bikram says “happy spine, happy life!” While I can’t say I respect or admire the man, I do believe in the yoga and I’ve wholeheartedly come to understand this mantra. Our spine is literally holding us up; it provides the structure and support for the rest of our body. Keeping it strong, flexible, and well, happy, seems like a no-brainer. Still, so many of the positions and movements that our bodies are forced into on a daily basis run counterintuitive to the maintenance of a healthy spine. Most of us live with consistent discomfort in our backs that ranges from nagging to severe pain.

While both staying active and stretching have always been helpful, there’s only one move that has steadily relieved the near constant aching in my lower back: the backbend. While I’ve been practicing yoga for almost 9 years for a multitude of reasons, the necessity of bending it back is at the top of the list.

Here are 3 reasons why this move is saving my ass– inside the yoga room and out in the world:

  1. Sometimes the OPPOSITE helps us find our BALANCE. Sitting at a desk, driving a car, shoveling snow, mopping the floor, doing laundry, picking up the kids. All day long we are forced to bend forward, our lives require it. This constant rounding is the primary source of almost all back pain. If we don’t counteract it with the opposite movement, we are rendered stiff, inflexible, and most likely, miserable. The same is true when it comes to our ideas and beliefs. While we all want to have conviction in what we believe in, we know that too much rigidity and a refusal to consider any position besides our own leads to an intolerant and undesirable environment. Bending–or looking, or listening in the opposite direction keeps us versatile and open-minded; it helps us keep our balance so we are able to move about the world freely and with a greater understanding of how we all occupy this space.
  2. We can BEND and not BREAK. There is more than one way to skin a cat. There is also more than one way to backbend. In Bikram, we move through a series of postures. Some of these postures focus on the backbend while others compliment it or feature it as a secondary outcome. One of the simplest ways to get a backbend is to simply stand up, put your hands on the back of your hips, keep your chest up, and slowly bend backward. You can also grab an exercise ball and lay back across it with your feet on the ground. Use your feet to slowly and safely guide you into a super deep and super supported backbend (just a warning, this one feels so good you will want to lay on the ball forever!). The point is, you don’t have to bust down every barrier of your comfort zone and go to a yoga class to get a healthier spine. You can find YOUR way, just like you have in other aspects of your life. When people offer new ideas, we can often incorporate them into our lives in a way that still leaves us true to ourselves. We can tweak our routines without taking on a whole new lifestyle. We can adapt to change, not fracture underneath it.
  3. Opening our CHESTS may help us open our HEARTS. Admittedly, I was going through a lot when I took my first yoga class. I had just gotten sober and emotions seemed to be spilling out of me left and right; I often felt like I was losing control. The first time I came out of camel pose (posture demonstrated in the pic below), tears began wildly streaming down my face. I felt so embarrassed; I quickly moved into my savasana and tried to limit the attention I was drawing to myself. The instructor spotted me though, almost immediately. Careful to not call me out, she offered comfort by explaining to the entire class that the camel posture often releases trapped emotions by opening the chakras (our spiritual centers) at the front of the body. She said it was completely normal to emerge from the posture in tears or feeling especially vulnerable. When she used the world vulnerable, I finally understood what I was feeling. That posture left me open and exposed, like I was showing myself to the world; it immediately made me want to run away, shut down, and be alone. Instead, I repeated the posture–once more in that class and thousands more times over the years. I’ve forced myself to frequently return to that feeling of vulnerability– to live in and get comfortable in it. I have to do it because I know that when we allow ourselves to open up and release the toxicity of all our guilt and shame and judgement and fear, we create space for growth and creativity and joy, and of course, love. So you see, if we don’t bend it back, we can’t release the pain. If we don’t open up our hearts, we can’t usher in the very best that life has to offer.


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