You see, around 75% of the adult population has experienced lower back pain – and I’m not talking about those who practice yoga. It’s a “thing” and not a yoga “thing.” It comes up in yoga a lot, though. Mostly around backbends though honestly, the way we forward bend can often be more to blame. But lets just stick with backbends for now. Because that’s usually where we get scared our body either completely seizes up or totally collapses.
Luckily, there doesn’t have to be an either/or. We have lots of gray to research and learn. But before we get started, lets get something clear: We are NOT going all the way. Now that THAT silly business is out of the way.
About six months ago, the studio where I teach put out an all-call for teachers to submit their own chaturanga “selfies.”Yeah, not one of us responded.Seriously, who wants that posture picked apart on Facebook by a bunch of arm chair anatomy experts in a slew of unending cues as comments … which will inevitably snowball into a debate about shoulders, pain and injury… until next thing you know, some yoga-asana expat will write a scathing blog about it (and Ashtanga) with your picture as the star witness.
I remember as a kid, helping my slightly OCD mom ready our bedsheets to be folded. We would each grab two corners and pull our ends taut, in our efforts to eliminate all the wrinkles and crinkles we could before we began. I kind of think of backbends a little like this lately … as I reach in opposite directions, smoothing out my own bumps and bends, creating the clean length and lines my OCD mom could be proud of. But sometimes it’s confusing. After all, most of us learned to drop back and stand up in a backbend by bending our knees forward to counter our weight as we go back.
The arm balances of third series really take all I have in terms of upper body strength – and all I have is often, still not enough. Jen René asked her teacher, Tim Miller, for advice last week.”Use your head,” he told her. When she relayed his message, I giggled at the irony of a teacher finally telling me to use my head instead of get out of it!
If there’s a holy grail in the Ashtanga yoga practice, it must a long central axis (or spine, for reference) and rooted pelvis, for within the two lie the keys to heaven – or as we say, bandhas. And so it seems logical we do all we can to protect and keep these lines sacred. The primary series offers us the perfect place to practice this alignment with shapes that logically lead us towards that promised land.
I don’t know if you know this about Ashtanga – but backbends are a pretty big damn deal. When I started, no one cared that I could stand on my hands. No one wanted to see me float or jump or balance on my arms. No, they wanted to see my backbend.
Only, I didn’t have a backbend. I had more of a coffee table.