There’s a lot involved with practicing yoga. Even when you’ve been doing it a while, each time you practice you’re having to think about what you’re doing with different parts of your body. Trying to co-ordinate rotations, extensions, contractions, relaxations and your breathing takes a lot of effort.
You’ll also find that there are a lot of poses in yoga. So there’s a lot to learn.
When you’re learning any new skill it can be useful to focus your practice on particular areas, rather than trying to master everything at once. In yoga, particularly Iyengar yoga, the theme of classes changes each week so that students and teachers get a chance to focus on specific things.
This week our focus was backbends.
I decided to approach backbends using two different approaches – passive and active. Active backbends can be exhilarating, but the flip-side of that is that they use a lot of energy. Passive backbends can be relaxing, but that can mean you miss out on the exhilaration. So I started with some passive work.
Supta Baddha Konasana with some support under the lower back encourages the base of the spine to move forward, which is fundamental to safe, effective backbends. The bend, or extension, should be implemented throughout the length of the spine so start at the bottom, literally, by taking the tailbone forward. We then did some limbering movements in this position, pushing down with the feet to raise the hips and stretch the hip flexors. The front of the hips and tops of the thighs need to be flexible to minimise restriction in backbends.
We continued with the passive work, lying in Savasana with a block under the thoracic spine and the shoulders just touching the floor, to encourage the thoracic spine to move forward.
With the passive work done we moved onto the active work, starting with Salamba Bhunjangasana, supported cobra. In this pose we actively press the tailbone down and use the back muscles to lift the spine up and back, supporting the weight on the arms and using some pressure in the hands to encourage deeper movement into the backbend. Countering is important, but easy counters are better than deep forward bends so we just rested lying face down.
After practicing the active actions in the relatively easy pose of Salamba Bhujangasana we moved onto Urdvha Mukha Svanasana. First of all coming into it from lying face down, good for developing strength in the arms and back. Then we practiced coming into the pose from Adho Mukha Svanasana. A classic movement which forms a part of Surya Namaskar.
Classical counters for backbends are twists, so after all the backbend work we used Maricyasana and Jathara Parivrtti to ease the back, before finishing in Savasana.