Fierce, Fearless and Free: The Liberating Power of Backbends

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It’s a busy time at the birdhouse in our backyard. Any day now, the chicks will be ready to take the big leap out of the nest.

Watching these baby birds over the past few weeks has been a great lesson for me in vulnerability and trust in the natural cycle of life.

Yoga practice can also teach us about working with vulnerability and trust. As we move and open the body with awareness, we might be faced with feelings of uncertainty, discomfort in our own skin and even helplessness.

I am often struck and inspired by the sense of openness and innocence in new students, who come to yoga at all ages, up for the challenge and willing to try out the poses in their bodies. Yoga can bring us into new and sometimes scary places. Our task as students is to meet the vulnerability with trust.

As we move through the physical and emotional terrain of asana practice, we deepen awareness, build strength and foster an integrated sense of stability. The work empowers, it builds confidence and creates a sense of safety and internal support. It allows us to embrace the uncertainty, to soften and release into a place of trust in ourselves. And with that, perhaps we uncover a deeper sense of trust in the underlying fabric of life as well.

Back-bending poses are a powerful example of this dynamic. How do we create the stability, integration needed open the front of the body? How can we bolster ourselves to embrace our vulnerability with self-trust?

Here are some ideas:

  • Build sufficient and appropriate strength in the legs, back and core to support the thoracic vertebrae in extension.
  • Open the hips and align the lower body to effectively extend and ground through the legs.
  • Integrate the arms into the shoulders so they both can support the upper back to lift and open the chest.

All this, combined with opening the shoulders, top chest and upper back work to create a sense of deep support, grounding and elongation as body opens. With the proper support and length, we access a place of rock-solid stability inside.  We can trust this strength as our deepest Selves.

Here is a backbends sequence that combines shoulder and upper body opening with the strength-building work above:

Props needed:

  • One or two bolsters
  • Two blankets
  • Belt

Warm-ups

Backbend over cross-bolsters, belt around thighs (see photos for set-up)

Supta Padangusthasana 1 and 3

Urdhva Prasarita Padasana

Jatara Parivartanasana (knees bent or legs straight for full pose)

Adho Mukha Svanasana

Uttanasana

Urdhva Hastasana

Standing Crescent Moon

Uttanasana with clasped hands behind the back variation

Adho  Mukha Svanasana – Phalaksana – Urdhva Mukha Svanasana 5x

Standings

Trikonasana

Parsvakonasana

Vira 2

Vira 1

Parsvottanasana

Hip/Shoulder Openers

Supta Virasana

Gomukhasana

Backbends

Salabhasana

Bhujangasana

Ustrasana

Chatush Padasana

Urdhva Dhanurasana

Cooldown with our holiday mini-practice 

Savasana