Yoga Tip: Common Mistakes in Backbending

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For 35 years+ Bikram has repeated over and over that the way to heal most spinal problems is by doing proper backbends in hot room mixed in with a proper compliment of other yoga postures. In part he designed his 26-posture sequence to correct skeleton misalignments. Bikram’s Hot Yoga has worked for so well that Bikram yoga studios are opening up throughout the country and Europe. Yet there are individuals who fear doing backbends for seemingly good reasons … such as… “it hurts” … “my physical therapist told me not to do it” (has the physical therapist done it within the 26 posture series in a hot room with proper instruction? probably not.) … “I injured myself doing a backbend in gymnastics 20 years” … etc.

Look, it is very simple. In order to heal the spine you need to develop core strength from the base of your spine up. If you slump when you sit in your car or a chair, you probably lost your core strength some time ago … without realizing it … maybe you never had it.

Okay, so how does one get this core strength?

1. Establish downward pointing vectors of energy which act as a platform from which you can harness whatever strength you possess to extend upward. With practice you will develop more body awareness so that you extend yourself in vectors of energy which engender strength, vitality & flexibility. You will feel a natural lift in your spine. So how do I get this lift?

2. Once you get this downward vector, you must create a continuous stream of upward lift so that you can reach back without collapsing. Let me use Half Moon pose as an example. The downward vector only happens when one does the following: squeeze your legs and buttocks together intensely, wake up the soles of the feet by grabbing the floor, lock out the knees, and engage in root lock. If you have any lower back issues, it is essential to establish your lower body foundation. From here, you can create an upward lift by extending your index fingers, crown and core up toward the ceiling. So there’s a simultaneous reach down & reach up. Now as you extend your reach backwards as well as up, you introduce a vector backward and forward. Lines of energy always move in 2 directions. So there is reach back with the upper body and the hips move forward … without bending the knees which would impede the downward vector. Does all of this make sense? This posture in NOT a backward collapse. It is backward core lift.

So what are the most common mistakes in backbends?

1. Laziness about creating a downward vector. How tough is it to squeeze your butt and thighs together and grab the floor with the soles of your feet? No one is asking you to run a 4-minute mile. Just squeeze your legs and butt together… as best you can.

2. Laziness about reaching up. Here it is so much easier to simply collapse backwards than it is to reach up and build this core lift. I know because I ignored this core lift for years until I realized that I wasn’t developing meaningful strength. I was just dropping backward to see how far I could go. And in so doing, I injured myself. And then healed myself. And then injured myself. And then healed myself. You get the point. Through the yoga I could heal myself . But I wasn’t getting the core lift which Bikram calls, “creating natural human traction.”

3. Fear can create an unwillingness to explore this core lift. So you might decide backbends are too dangerous. And you may never give this yoga system a fair trial period. Emotional release is a common occurrence in the process of healing the spine through proper backbends. Why? Think of it! You are moving into the unknown each time you reach up and back. During Savasana it is very important to give yourself time to let go of tears or whatever. During standing series, you can always lie down in savasana if you feel strong emotions so that you can breathe and release. This is what the yoga is designed to do.

Which Bikram postures offer the best backbends?
Half Moon, Standing bow, cobra, full locust, bow, & camel. Most of the other postures include this core lift. Even during the standing series between postures you can experience an energizing core lift with your inhale and a grounding downward vector with your exhale.

Let us know how this tip works for you. We want to serve you with greater integrity. So please don’t be shy. And share your victories … no matter how small … you never know who you will inspire.