I forgot to talk about my first backbends in the shala. As I thought about this, I began to think about how significant backbends are and how, as we progress through the Ashtanga practice, they play an integral part in it. With this in mind, I have included the mind/body energetic implications of backbending towards the bottom of this post, for anyone interested.
Once the primary series is complete, the general rule is that students are able to drop back from standing into a back bend and come up on their own before beginning the intermediate series. The beginning of the intermediate series is mostly backbends building up to the lovely (but intense) Kapotasana! Then in advanced A we have Viparita Shalabhasana, and Ganda Bherundasana, which are even more intense. Advanced B sees a lot of backbending asanas requiring much strength and flexibility
In Mysore it is prerequsite that everyone walks their hands in towards their heels and anyone who can, is encouraged to drop back, and catch their ankles. I managed to escape my dropbacks on Day 1, but I knew on Day 2 that they would have to be faced. Needless to say, after my first Urdhva Dhanurasana, there was Saraswathi Jois (Sharath’s mother, who assists Sharath, in the main shala after her own class) standing at the end of my mat….waiting…. There was no escape. I was still not feeling the full capacity of my body’s flexibility, so frankly I was dreading it a little, but at the same time knowing not to go there, because grabbing my ankles was coming. It was inevitable. If I allowed myself to go into my fear, I would only make it harder. It’s kind of like when you have to get into freezing cold water. You know you just have to dive in. If you do it slowly it’s agonizing. It kind of felt like that, but like I was about to have my head dunked in freezing cold water and I wasn’t really ready so there was nothing to do about it other than surrender. Surrender I did.
My experience of Saraswathi is that she is very strong and grounded, a true matriarch. I made sure to remind myself to exhale, exhale, exhaaaaaale, to try and release any tension that I was holding due to fear. When it came to the ankle grabbing bit, it was intense, but I focused intently on my breath to shut my mind off, plus the fact that it would soon be over. And it was. As I came up for air, I felt grateful and relieved and safe. It brought me back to my last trip, and the memory of feeling very held and protected in Saraswathi’s hands. I also felt a release….
Backbends no matter how easy they may look when we see them done well, never cease to be intense in some way or another. They are so provocative. They really show us where we are with ourselves and with the world. If we’re closed or if we’re open. Holding on or letting go. In fact they force you to let go. This is one of the reasons they are renown for bringing up emotion. It’s impossible to do a deep backbend reasonably comfortably, without letting go in one way or another. And there is always so much to let go of….
If we work from the premise that our “biography is our biology” and that everything we experience is stored in the cells of our body and filtered through the seven power centers of the body (chakras); backbends can be used to unblock or balance the heart chakra (anahatasana), throat chakra (visuddha) and when dropping back from standing - the root chakra (muladhara).
The heart chakra mediates between our inner creative world and our physical, material world. Our emotional energy is our greatest motivator, influencing how we manifest from the creative plane to the material plane. The throat chakra is the center for self-expression and choice. Fear versus trust. Making choices through will power, versus surrendering to inner guidance. The root chakra reflects our sense of belonging, identity and survival. When we drop back into a backbend from standing the legs must be very strong, bandhas must be firmly engaged. This grounds the opening of the upper chakras, preventing imbalance of the upper chakras over the lower ones.
I took my first yoga class in 1997 and practically fell asleep. Yoga was not for me! Fast forward three years and I go to my first Ashtanga Yoga class. I am blown away. I LOVE it! The only problem is it's a 30 min drive away and I now have a 2 year old son, and no child care at home. Fortunately, my then teacher - the wonderful Alex Medin, lets me bring him along. I wake him up at 5.30am and sling him in the back of the car in his baby blanket. He sits in the corner of the shala looking at books and listening to story tapes, and I practise. We don't manage it every day nor even sometimes every week, but we go when we can. It is not until many years later after the birth of my second son, when both boys are much older and in full time school, that I finally find my daily practise. And many years after that, that I finally get to Mysore.
|Corrie Ananda Yoga||
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