Backbends are known to cultivate stamina, courage and energy. Yet when done with attention to the back body and the breath, the mind can become quiet for a refreshing and joyful experience in the back arching postures.
In Yoga The Iyengar Way, Silva, Mira and Shyam Mehta state that “Backbends are rejuvenating. They give energy and courage, and combat depression. They open the chest and make the spine flexible. The arms and shoulders become strong. The mind and body become alert.” B.K.S. Iyengar also includes the following effects in Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health:
- helps to correct posture
- increases lung capacity
- improves blood circulation to all the organs of the body
- tones the muscles of the back and spine
- removes stiffness in the shoulders and back
- removes abdominal cramps
- strengthens abdominal and pelvic organs
It seems that the general mode in regard to backbends involves, vigor, stamina, perseverance and will power. Therefore I was interested in what Mr. Iyengar had to say about backbends in an interview that he gave in 1991. In backbends, we can learn to feel the part of the body that we cannot see – the back body. He explains how working with sensitivity and discernment in these poses can lead to the sight of the “seer” – the soul or the core of our being. Mr. Iyengar expresses this idea beautifully here:
“Backbends are not poses meant for exhibitionism. Backbends are meant to understand the back parts of our bodies. The front body can be seen with the eyes. The back body cannot be seen; it can only be felt. That’s why I say these are the most advanced postures, where the mind begins to look at the back, first on the peripheral level, then inwards, towards the core.”
He goes on to say that back arches practiced in this way, instead of being overly stimulating, can actually lead us toward dhyana, meditation.
“For a yogi, backbends are meant to invert the mind, to observe and to feel—first the back, then the consciousness and the very seer. Through the practice of backbends, by using the senses of perception to look back, and drawing the mind to the back portion of the body, one day meditation comes naturally.”
I hope you can join us on Friday, April 2 at 12:00 pm for an exploration of Creating Space in Backbends, where we will look at various ways of taking support in back bending practice.
Taking support can make backbends more doable while also providing a teaching tool to create correct action and alignment. Using the support of props also allows a longer stay in the poses, providing more opportunity to penetrate the pose and bring the mind to a quiet state.