Not every yoga pose needs to bring you to edge of limits. Some poses lay the technical and anatomical foundation for deeper practice. It’s crucial that you apply healthy alignment principles in the foundational poses if you seek to maintain your practice over the course of your lifetime. If you jump in with all heart and zeal but forget to use wisdom and intelligence, chances are you’ll push too hard and miss out on the subtlety of your yoga practice.
Backbending is a both challenging emotionally and physically. As such, it truly demands that you learn optimal technique from the beginning. If you try and force your backbends not only will you prevent your spine from opening but you may experience an entirely preventable injury. The beauty of backbends is that they energize the small micro-muscles of the back and stimulate the nervous system. Not to mention that in a healthy backend every single muscle of the entire body is involved.
The process of backbending can be thought of as bending over backwards with the entire body. As the muscles of around your spine lift and create space around the vertebrae, the front body lengthen, the legs engage, the pelvic floor firms, and the shoulders and chest open. On a more internal level, the digestive system is cleansed, the cardio-vascular is stimulated and the nervous system is enervated. Finally on an energetic level, the vital life essence known as Prana is pushed upwards along the central channel, often bringing heat, emotions and rarefied states of consciousness to the surface. You will only progress to the deepest levels of realization within the inner body once the basics of alignment are set up well. Ustrasana, translated into English as the Camel Pose, is the perfect backbend to establish your awareness of anatomical and alignment.
Starting off in Downward Facing Dog, step or jump your feet forward to a kneeling position. Place the knees hips’ width apart. If your backbend is relatively open leave the toes pointed, but if your backbend is relatively tighter then curl the toes under and use the strength of the feet for more foundation. Internally rotate the hip joints and gently activate the inner thigh muscles to adduct the femurs. A gentle internal rotation allows the sacrum to be free and helps keep the glutes soft. Activate the pelvic floor and send the hips forward, opening the fronts of the hip joints and releasing the psoas and hip flexors. Inhale as you draw the lower abdomen in and lift the rib cage away from the hips to maximize the space between the joints of the spine. Exhale bend each each of the joints of the spine in to extension and facilitate a soft arched back. Nutate the sacrum and distribute the bend equally throughout the entire spine. Place the heels of the hands on the heels of the feet, roll the shoulders forward to internally rotate the humerus and send the sternum up and forward. Allow the trapezius muscles to come up and support the neck pillow as you comfortably drop your head back and gaze towards the nose. Stay for five breaths. With each inhalation create space both physically and emotionally. With each exhalation surrender into that space in every way possible. Come out of the pose in the same methodical way that you entered, reversing the instructions and maintaining space and support for every joint of the body. Move with symmetry and awareness. Never force.
By Kino MacGregor