Backbends are notorious for causing strong emotions as you’re going deeper.
I remember when I took backbends to the next level in my Ashtanga practice. In led classes, I thought I was deepening my backbends, but it wasn’t until I had the personal guidance from a teacher that they became more intense.
I remember prepping for dropbacks just by standing up, grounding my feet, and bending my body as far as I could go. Then popping back up. My teacher said, “Monica, drop back.” I looked at her like she was crazy. The crazy thing is that I am a former gymnast and still do backhandsprings on a regular basis. But, something about dropping back was causing panic. She said, “You’ll never get over your fear if you don’t try.”
A big part of the Ashtanga method is surrendering to your teacher. I knew that my teacher had total trust and belief that I could do it even if I didn’t. This was one of the best gifts because this is where I learned to get over my fears and live out of my comfort zone.
When I finally started doing dropbacks on my own, I felt dizzy and nauseous. I just had to get used to going back and coming up. Backbends are also a deep cleansing of the nervous system, so when you start to work on deep backbends, it’s not a surprise that you’d feel a little sick in the beginning.
It’s a detox for your mind and body, and just like any detox – there is a period for a healing crisis. Backbends bring the prana up the spine and burn through obstacles, which trigger the panic and fear.
It took many years for me to be able to really listen to what was going on internally in backbends. It’s a full body experience. You’re grounding your feet and hands, utilizing so much strength in the legs, and opening the heart. You’re trying to straighten your arms and legs, find space in the spine, and then bring your hands closer to your feet – all while keeping a steady breath.
When you’re upside down, it’s tough to remain calm and think clearly. Most of the time, the student is just trying to get through it. For the longest time I thought that backbends hurt, but I was confusing discomfort for pain.
I never felt any pain in my spine, and I was never sore. The reason I told myself it was pain was because I didn’t want to deal with it. Pain is a trigger to stop, so that was my that’s what I made myself believe. My mind was clouded. My legs would feel really weak sometimes where I couldn’t hold myself up.
I would always give myself little goals and instruction beforehand: “This time, work on opening your heart. Focus on the upper back. Push the hips forward before I walk my hands in.” I would drop back and the next thing I knew, I had forgotten everything I told myself to work on. Every time, I’d be a little frustrated at myself for forgetting.
I remember the turning point when I realized it wasn’t pain. I was practicing at home, and I actually listened in. I realized – this doesn’t hurt. And, I could control this weakness in my legs. I was about to drop down, but I kept repeating to myself….find strength, find strength, find strengh. The weakness went away, and I was able to hold myself up.
This was huge for me because I realized that I can take control over my life. Every time something seems impossible, it’s because I’ve created it even if I didn’t realize it. I had to learn to overcome and take control.
Do I still feel the weakness and discomfort? Yes, for sure. I have to work through it every time, and sometimes I let it get the best of me. But, I never give up. I do my best, and then just try again the next day.
I know backbends are scary, so I made a step by step video on how to slowly build up the confidence for backbends, and then how to deepen them.
You don’t have to be dropping back or working in second series to feel the healing effects of backbends, but I do encourage you to push the edge each time. Remember that the foundation of yoga is the breath. Find that place of challenge, and then focus on finding your breath.
There should never be a time where you’re not breathing in yoga, and there should be total awareness on finding a steady breath when it gets scary or difficult.
You’re gonna do great!