There, I said it. It hurts. Not in the way that I pulled a muscle or messed up some disc in my spine. It’s sore. As in, I wish I could spend every waking moment on a heated massage table. Go ahead, laugh at me. I deserve it. Little Miss “I Looooooove Kapotasana” is changing her tune. I used to feel comfortable the back bending portion of my daily ashtanga practice. Not only could I breathe freely in even some of the most challenging back bends, but I would hold them. Willingly. For extra breaths. I’m (somewhat) sad to report that the love affair is over. For now.
My fellow ashtangi’s told me that putting my legs behind my head would affect my back bending practice. So when I was given Eka Pada Sirsasana through the Tittibasana sequence in second series, I was prepared for my back bends to take a backseat. Word on the street was that the magical cure for back bending issues developed in conjunction with placing your legs behind your head is Pincha Mayurasana.
Pincha is a demanding forearm balance that follows Tittibasana in the second series syllabus. I was warned me that I’d likely cringe at the thought of back bending until I was progressed to that posture. For me, poses involving putting my legs behind my head are menacing, so I was prepared for regression in my back bending practice. Each time I got on my mat, I waited for the discomfort…discomfort that never actually came. I realized I could still work on my back bends without distress. The day I heard DG say to me, “Pincha Mayurasana”, I thought I survived the ordeal unscathed.
After that, I’m fairly certain that I became slightly cocky about working on back bending and leg behind the head postures. I remember telling someone that the hype surrounding the leg behind the head postures was, in fact, false. After my experience, I believed that everyone’s body was built differently and would therefore have a different reaction to the experience. I mean, clearly MY back bends were completely invincible and only capable of progression. Enter third series. Oh hello, Kasypasana through Durvasana. Goodbye, pretty back bends.
I’ve decided that I’m not dwelling on it. Better yet, I’m using the experience as a learning opportunity in many different capacities. Dealing with regression in a posture that I was somewhat proficient in is a total blow to my ego. Ashtanga always does that. It swoops in, and knocks you off of your high horse at the exact right moment. It’s part of what I love about the practice. It never fails to instill a sense of humility, both on and off of my mat. Each practice reinforces this trait to some degree, but the back bending situation is taking it to a different level.
I have (had?) a flexible back, so I never encountered the challenges that others face when working on back bending. As a yoga teacher, working through this difficulty will give me insight, experience, and empathy to assist students struggling with these postures. I’m confident that eventually my back will become stronger and my back bends will improve as I continue to work on the asanas and the weak muscles that are creating discomfort.
Interestingly enough, I recently began seeing a chiropractor. I never really bought into the whole chiropractor thing, but I thought eh, why not. As it turns out, he’s pretty great at his job and the whole experience is exceeding my expectations. Besides his exceptional adjustments, he’s already worked on core exercises to stabilize my spine. I have a natural, pronounced lower back arch that every yoga teacher I’ve worked with attempts to correct. The chiropractor also recognizes this and the core exercises focus specifically on correcting the issue.
Last week, he did an exam that tested my overall strength and flexibility. One of the items he discussed immediately after the exam was my back strength in relation to my core strength. He found both to be strong, but they were equally strong. To keep the spine stable and promote back health, my chiropractor believes back muscles should be 20% stronger than core muscles. Hanging out with my leg behind my head in crazy third series postures is absolutely strengthening my back muscles, and now it’s literally what the doctor ordered. It’s fascinating to see how this practice really does work to naturally restore balance and alignment to the body.
Most importantly, the back bending ordeal is reinforcing the fact that nothing in life is permanent – not even postures in my yoga practice. So I’m acknowledging the obstacle, but working on not dwelling on it. I’m learning to let go of any sense of ownership of asanas, the idea of “completion”, and embracing how much more I have yet to learn with this beautiful practice.