Urdhva Dhanurasana is one of my favorite asanas. As a child, I would often practice this in my ballet and dance classes. It was always so fun and energizing to push myself into the bridge and have my sister crawl through the tunnel. It wasn't until I started practicing yoga when I found out there was actually a Sankrti name for it. I was excited that yoga had brought back such a fun childhood game!
Well, I certainly had lost much of my youthful strength. Perhaps it was the desk-job? Or just the laziness that sometimes comes with being an adult. In one of my very first yoga classes, when the teacher introduced the pose near the end of class, there was just no way I was even close to having the strength to push myself off the floor. I knew it wasn't going to happen, so I just went back to a bridge pose. Wheel was too advanced to pressure myself into any time soon, so I stayed away from it. After about two months of diligent yoga classes, when another instructor guided us from bridge to wheel, I had my first in-class surprise moment. To my absolute astonishment, my arms lifted me strong into what felt like a perfectly rounded Urdhva Dhanurasana. You should have seen the goofy upside-down smile on my face. As the instructor guided us down from the pose, I just had to power it for a few seconds longer. I had tasted the sweet juice of progress and accomplishment. I walked out of class the happiest I had been in a while.
Since then, I've continued to practice wheel and other backbends, anxiously awaiting the moment I truly feel a deeper accomplishment. My ego often knocks on the door as I try to push myself harder. I had a quick and personally embarrassing lesson after my low back scolded me for a few days. I know my body well enough now to feel what's just far enough and safe enough.
Backbends are extrodinary. It's an abnormal extension of the spine that is generally not a part of our daily routine. They work best when practiced in moderation and with patience. Any time the spine is extended in a backbend, it's important to support the lower back by using the core and abdominal muscles. Never push your body past its current strength ability, and always a maintain an upward "lifting" component when bending backwards. I have learned this through my teachers, readings and personal experience.
Even though I know what I should be doing, I still tend to focus too much on my desire for that deep curvature of the back. But that is not the secret to achieving backbends. That should not be the focus.
The key to achieving something is often not what's right infront of us, but rather what lies ahead waiting to be discovered.
Shift your focus, not to the curve or flexibility of the back, but to the expansion and broadening of the front-body, chest and shoulders. In wheel pose, it is more about awakening the muscles across the entire front-body and being able to open the hips and shoulders. Practice this slowly. Many of us have chronic poor posture, usually with a slouched-in chest for several hours a day. Unfortunately, I'm a desk-troll, so my front-body rarely gets attention. Naturally, the muscles in this area will be shortened and weakened and hence should become the main focus of backbends.
Bring energy to the "other side" for a while. Lessen your attention to how deep you can curve the spine. Focus on opening and lengthening the space in front of you. Over time, as you create more room within the front of your body, the backbend will follow. Before you know it, you will experience what I like to call "yoga surprises"...those in-class (or at-home) moments when your progress and hard work sneaks up on you and kisses you right on the mouth! It's that "Boom!" feeling, that "I did it" holler!
I find backbends to be so enlightening and a huge mood-changer. They make me feel all glittery and happy inside!
I hope this inspires your wheel or backbend practice!
What do you focus on when practicing backbends? What helps you stay motivated and patient?
Hello, I'm Julie.
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