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Backbend and I: My difficult relationship with back bending

Just like a lot of IG yogis out there, I love backbends for how photogenic they are. On the other hand, I have a difficult relationship with backbends as a yoga practitioner, because I have injured my lower back so many times from bad habits of forcing and not engaging the right muscles. More importantly, as a yoga teacher, I am very mindful of how I teach a class. Backbend is among the most popular topic and focus of so many teachers; however, as a practitioner and a teacher, I have found through my experience there are common problems I faced while practicing in classes:

1. Insufficient warm-up

Let‘s face it - women are more flexible and open than men naturally when it comes to backbend. While I am able to do funky backbends such as full pigeon, and scorpion, I need more warm-up for me to get to that point. Typically, I would need at least 30 mins of warm-up before I can go into deep backbends. I also would need a lot of holds in poses such as camel before going into Kapotasana. I think all of us teachers are taught to include warm-ups as parts of our flow, but one thing we often forgot, myself included, is that our student may need more warm-up than us to get to certain poses.

2. Insufficient cues for muscular engagement for safe practice

Again - let’s face it - even with a teacher's degree, at times, I am guilty of not engaging the right muscle and allow my flexibility to overtake to get into the pose. I can bend my back and get into a camel pose in a class, but I would then ask myself why am I feeling weird in my back after the class. Oh! I forgot to engage my legs and core! This happens to me, who has been trained on how to do things correctly, but without reminders, I sometimes forgot. What would happen to the students then?

Nowadays, I tried to err on the side of over-cueing when it comes to backbend and inversion, just to, not only reminding my students but also myself as I demo.

What are my tricks in safe backbends then?

Personally, I focus on a few simple feeling

1. I have to feel my chest expanded

2. I have to NOT feel my lower back squeezed

3. I have to be able to breathe comfortably

4. I have to feel the upper legs engage and hip forward

They are not mutually exclusive, but once I remind myself those as I do a backbend, it always feels good (together with nice photo), rather than painful. Maybe my relationship with backbends can be improved after all...

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