Yoga Practice ---Back Bend Poses N K Srinivasan

"Like an unbaked pot in water, the body keeps decaying;One should bake it with fire of Yoga and make it pure." --- Gheranda Samhita [15th or 17th cent]
Yoga poses or asanas of back bend category are very tough for most yoga students. At the same time, they are most invigorating and bring about all-round benefits.

Small children can easily do somersaults and wheel or chakra poses; these are not easy for those above forty years. Why this? The answer is simple. Modern persons rarely get back bends in daily activities.

In fact our life is loaded with forward bend work, almost all the time---whether you type at the computer or work in the kitchen or open the car door. Our hip,waist,spine --all get stuck pretty hard with very little movement. Add to this the stiffness due to body fat and sitting in a chair for eight hours or more.

WARNING : Have a medical check up and discuss with your doctor before taking up this yoga practice. Have a discussion with your yoga teacher before you begin. Do not proceed just by reading a book or seeing videos/DVDs or reading this article!

Back bends are easy to practise if you proceed in small, definite stages. This article is mainly about the gradual

stages to do them. I am giving five stages here. Practise at least for one week at each stage before you practise every day all the

take up the next stage. But

poses from stage 1 to the stage you are in.

The poses we suggest for building up this practice are as follows: 1 Upward facing Dog 2 Sphinx 3 Cobra 4 Camel 5 Bow 6 Bridge 7 Inverted Plank 8 Upward Bow 9 Wheel

10 Pigeon --------------------------------

STAGE 1 The first stage is the easy one and you must be already doing these poses as a beginner: 1 Upward Facing Dog pose [Urdhva mukha svana asana]: This well known pose goes with its famous partner: "downward facing dog" pose. Practice both first a few times every day.

2 Sphinx pose: This pose is not so well known.In fact many books do not mention this; this is considered too easy or elementary.

Believe me---practise this a few times every day to bend your back first. This pose is what its name conveys---lie down flat on your stomach like a sphinx in Egypt...Keep your forearms flat on the mat and stretch your face,neck and chest upwards. Do it gently and without straining your neck...Stay in this pose for 1 minute. Practise this daily and this is a great preparation for other back-bend poses.

STAGE 2

In the second week or third week, move to this stage. 1 COBRA pose---Bhujangasana.. From sphinx pose, lift your neck and chest further and 'keep your arms straight'-- vertical--just perpendicular to the mat; The hands give some support, but the action is done with bending of your back ---that is spine. Stay for 15 secs, later for 30 secs or 1 minute...Do not overdo this. Take about a week to master this pose.

2 CAMEL pose or Ustra asana --easy to do for most people...this pose bends your spine totally...do this gently; if you are unable to touch your heel, keep a brick above the heels and try to touch it. After a few days, you will be able to touch your heels or even grasp it fully...practise for about a week.

STAGE 3 1 BOW POSE --Dhanurasana:

If you had practised Cobra and Camel poses, this pose should be easy...practise gently and stay for 20 or 30 seconds. Here comes two poses for tough back bends.Do this gently: 2 BRIDGE pose or Sethu banda asana..

Lie flat and then

you lift hip and lumbar back up . Do

this gently .Bend your neck a bit backward so that you do not cringe or crush your neck...breathe gently and normally.This pose would bend your back smoothly. You may use a brick or pillows to support the hip for this pose. 3 INVERTED PLANK Pose --Viparita Danda asana: This is indeed a tough pose.If you had mastered the earlier ones, this should be easy..practise gently. You can do this with pillows supporting your chest portion or use a chair to do this..{See "Iyengar yoga" books for details}.You are bending the entire spine. At the same time, your neck and face are bent backwards. Be gentle on your neck... If you feel giddy, do not do this pose at all. Stay for about 30 seconds. Note that Bridge pose and inverted plank pose are really the most invigorating back bends. If you have mastered them,congratulate yourself...Keep pratising daily.

STAGE 4 This stage is the culmination of your efforts so far for the past 3 to 4 weeks.! Brace yourself.

1 UPWARD BOW POSE ---Urdhva dhanur asana --this is like an arch, with support from the two hands and two feet. This

is a graceful pose. Your entire spine [all the 24 vertebrae ] are stretched. The sacrum is the pivot stone for this arch...hence its importance. You need sufficient strength in your arms. You can get into this pose in various ways--but the easiest is to lie flat and bend your knees first...Then lift your hips and then chest.

You may do this near a wall ,if it helps or use other supports. Hold the pose for just 15 seconds or 30 seconds to begin with. Do not overdo this. Note: If your arms are not strong and if you have wrist problems ,avoid this pose.

2 WHEEL or Chakra pose is the same as this with slight variation. You may bend your knees in this pose... Do Wheel Pose as alternative to Inverted Bow pose.

STAGE 5 This stage is about the PIGEON POSE.OR KAPOTASANA. It is considered a tough pose by many teachers...[The

"Iyengar Yoga" books give it a four-star , the highest,rating in difficulty.] ---it depends...If you had come thus far in these stages, Pigeon pose or Kapota asana could be easy. [ I struggled with this pose for several days in my 70th year!.] This pose is not only a nice back-bend but also famous as a "hip opener"...to get hip flexibility, you must do this.!

1 ONE LEG KING PIGEON POSE [Eka pada raja kapota asana] (eka -one, pada- foot ,raja -king, kapota-pigeon] This is easier and you must try this first. You may use a wall to support the leg with the bent knee. Some attempt this pose from 'downward dog' pose, by bending one leg and lowering on the seat, with other leg stretched backwards. You may cushion your butts with a thin pillow. Bend backwards to bring the foot close to your head--as close as possible or use atrap to pull the foot closer to the head.. Salamba Kapotasana is an easier variation of this.

2 PIGEON POSE --Kapota asana proper--- this is the full pose with both legs bent backwards and the head resting of your feet...very tough indeed...

on the soles

Do not attempt this unless you are very comfortable with stage 4.

Kapotasana {from www.divinelight.ca}

{If you wish to practise Pigeon pose as only a hip KAPOTASANA.]

Simple reclining back bends
I have suggested very easy back bends in stage 1.There are restorative back bends which are easy to perform by any one with some support or props.These are seated poses.[ They are often neglected in yoga practice routines, though

some books and websites mention them.] They are reclining poses--- the names begin with 'supta". Supta-virasana is a reclining pose from Virasana or hero's pose.You can do similar poses from Padmasana or Baddha konasana . Such poses can be held for a long time. They are used much by women during the menstrual periods.They can be used by men to improve heart , brain and digestion. Contact: nksrinivasan@hotmail.com]

Refrences: 1 "Yoga Journal" Website articles.

2 "Yoga-the Iyengar Way " ---Silva, Mira and Shyam Mehta [D K Publishers] 3 "Yoga - 101 Essential tips" --Sivananda Yoga center [D K Publishers]

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