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back bending

The Yoga Way / back bending

Push-ups 101

Dropping the conventional and taking the long way home. “Even if you start doing push-ups it will not help,” replied the teacher to a student struggling to get up from the floor. In Mysore, India, we practice an unguided sequence, which is built from learning to practice the postures independently. As a student, this is the best way to learn the asanas. Quite unlike the West, a teacher in India will instruct using only verbal cues. From my experiences, the right word or message can be as potent as a physical adjustment. So, when I witnessed a teacher telling a student that even doing push-ups will not help, it was cause for pause. Maybe it doesn’t. No Strength Going back to my initial studies in India, Shri K. Pattabhi Jois,...

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The Magic of Chakorasana

I love the name of this posture. I love it because of the way it symbolizes the lightness of a bird and the magic of lifting upward to reach the stars. But coming to actually feel like this is something else. It’s definitely not an easy pose and while some students may have the natural flexibility to shape their leg over their shoulders most of us have to work toward it.   In this sense, there is no real magic as it is a journey of discovering where you land.   I began practicing this posture as I was learning the backbends of yoga. I felt it was a way to counter and neutralize the deeper backbends. But I also like this pose because it has three separate parts that...

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Are Back bends for You?

I love receiving questions from students and especially men. I say this because so often the practice feels like it has excluded them. It’s also ironic since all of my yoga teachers have actually been men in India. But in the west, there are many more women practicing and teaching yoga and fewer men thinking it has anything to offer them at all. And this misconception can be difficult to crack. Below is an open and honest query I received about back bending yoga from a male practitioner and yoga teacher. He writes: I have come across your work and am very interested in backbending. I am a long time male yoga practitioner and more recently teacher. I have always been challenged by back bending and never seem...

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The Sexy Backbend

The Sexy Backbend As a teacher, I get asked all kinds of questions about yoga. Sometimes they are obvious ones like, “Does it ever get easy?” to “How long will it take?” But one question was more personal and not as comfortable to reply to. Recently, a student wrote to me, “I feel very sexual during the practice. Is that okay?” His question was about backbending. During my backbending classes, students have expressed to me they feel "pretty orgasmic", but I have never been asked this question directly. He also wrote he hoped I didn’t take the question the wrong way. I felt his question was legitimate so I answered to it. Here’s my take: My Journey From my personal experience, backbends are extremely energizing. During the early stages...

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51 Breaths

Arriving in Bangalore I am greeted by my taxi driver, Ravi, whom I have known for several years. There is something settling in being greeted by a familiar face when so far away from home. It is 4:30 a.m. but it feels like mid-day from the activity at the airport. Heading toward the car, I comment on the weather being cold. Ravi replies, “Not hot madam. Medium temperature.” As we make our way along the Bangalore-Mysore road the one thing in my mind is starting practice again with my teacher. The traffic is surprisingly heavy as we pass oversized billboards and glide from one side of the road to the other. In one sense, the Bangalore motorway is a kind of analogy for practice. There are clear...

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Meeting the Edge in Time

"Consistent practice leads to changing perspectives. An altered perspective leads to taking greater risks and not just meeting but going into the edge." ~ Heather Morton While practicing the postures it’s popular to hear a teacher talk about meeting your edge. This is usually in reference to the place where you feel challenged and/or that elicits fear. It can also refer to the place where you are holding back. We may perceive our edges as the limit in which we can only physically bend. But what about internal edges? The places of fear and the areas we dislike, ignore, neglect and reject within ourselves?   These are the edges I am referring to. And because they are internal they are far more difficult to explore.   The edge really then can be understood...

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First Breath: How to Practice

It’s curious to finally realize that our longest companion, who has been with us since birth and leaves at death, is often the most neglected part of ourselves. The breath (the vital source) is always present even if we are not. The most common way to practice is to think of the body first and then breathe. But in yoga, it is the always the other way around. The breath is first then the body.   The breath is always first. It’s also last.   Improper exercise and quite possibly the aerobics scene made breathing obsolete. Learning how to breathe is the first lesson of yoga and especially if you learn it in India.   Here’s an exercise that I learned while in Mysore, India. Exercise: Take any posture of yoga and practice...

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Eight Things You Should Know

When people think about back bends they often envision a contortionist with their head resting on their butt. Bending backward looks pretty tough—even a bit painful. A few years ago, a student expressed feeling pain just by looking at the photos of backbends on the wall of my yoga school in Toronto. I remember thinking they look okay to me. But to tell the truth even for practitioners like me who have been practicing backbends for years—it is not easy. For anyone interested in developing their practice here’s how to take backbends into your yoga stride. 1.  Backbends shake you out of your comfort zone.  If we stop and think about it most (if not all) of our daily movements are limited to moving forward. Rarely do we spend time defying...

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Doubt is the Teacher

There comes a point in most practitioner’s journey of yoga when the questions and the self-doubts seem to be more than the answers. At one point in my own personal practice, I began asking myself, "Why am I practicing?" "Are the postures really worth it?" "What is the real point?" Doubt (considered to be one of the 9 kleshas) as laid out by Patajalim in The Yoga Sutras is an affliction or mental aversion. But how do you practice with such hard-core doubts?   In The Yoga Sutras the concept of doubt is a mental fluctuation arising from past karmas and deeply rooted in the mind. Doubt, however, is not looked upon as being as solid as it appears but changeable and the stuff of real practice. At...

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The Pain of Back bends

After the release of my dvd on backbending yoga, I had students writing to me about their practice. I found their questions to be helpful and decided to answer them through my blog writing. Here’s one question related to pain. "Sometimes I experience waist pain after backbending practice. What am I doing wrong?" There are many factors that could be attributing to this. However, it is not always about doing it wrong. Let's first look at what kind of pain it is. There are different kinds of pain and not all pain is bad. Guruji (or Shri K. Pattabhi Jois) used to tell me in class, “little pain today and gone tomorrow”. Pain is an indicator the muscles and joints have been stretched physically beyond their ‘known’ limit. This is...

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