“Be more banana and less bendy straw.” This is what you’ll normally hear me say when we head to the peak back bend of a yoga sequence. Often, my students end up frozen, perplexed by the analogy. The next natural step is my next analogy: “Less limbo and more up-and-over”. Ultimately, what I’m sharing is coming from a place with good intentions where the key to safe backbends in your yoga practice is to be safe and strong, rather than full of collapse and over-bendiness.
This is often the problem with modern day yoga. We increasingly treat it like a dance/contortion activity with the aim of making it as dramatic and ascetically-pleasing as possible. There are a few inevitable outcomes of this approach to backbends, specifically for the following types of bodies:
1. People with a tight back
Those with a tight back desperate to get deep and, sadly, the ego takes over after the limitations of the lumbar and thoracic spine set in. The result is the upper spine ‘bendy straw’ scenario, where the whole spine is completely straight except for the neck/cervical spine, which is crunching. Less back bend, more neck bend, but at least you can see the ceiling tiles! Bearing in mind how much bloody and how many nerves move through this tight, vulnerable part of the body, there’s not going to be many positive outcome here.
2. People with an over bendy lower back
Over-bendy yogis can go so, so ascetically deep via hinging in the lumbar spine. Sure, it does look so pretty, so why would they lift out of the lower back and try to even out of their backbend, when it would mean a far less impressive shape? I call this the lower back ‘bendy straw’ , where there is pretty much zero backbend, except in the lower back, which often only gets more and more bendy. Pushing into it is the route of least resistance compared to the naturally tighter thoracic spine. The core and back muscle end up doing next to nothing here, as gravity is allowed to take charge.
3. People most likely to faint after a backbend
They’ve got a natural tendency to collapse into the lumbar spine, but they want to look at the person behind them too. This makes them collapse in the cervical spine as well as the lumbar. No strength or stability is built, the tighter part of the spine that needs opening gets no attention. There’s a risk of actually damaging the body is the long term, and even briefly fainting in the short term.
So my suggestion is this:
Be honest with yourself instead of seeking to do what feels easiest or what feeds the ego.
Instead, seek to find an even curve from tailbone to base of the skull. Using the muscles of your back body to lift you “up and over” an imaginary bar (rather than slide under this bar) will do wonders for your body, your posture and the health of your spine.
You just might not get as many likes on Instagram. Sorry.
Join Adam Husler in his LIVE online workshop series on Saturday 3rd June and explore the world of safe backbends!
TALK: Awareness of the Spine
2:40 – 2:55 pm GMT
Join Adam for this special pre-class talk on how to safely and effectively mobilise the spine, in a way that will enhance the benefits that your body can get from your asana practice. We’ll be talking anatomy of the spine, how it moves, and how to incorporate our new knowledge on and off the mat.
Spine Awakening Workshop
3:00 – 4:00 pm GMT
After weeks of hunching over desks and laptops, bring fluidity and movement back into your spine! We’ll be twisting, bending and rippling as we find flexibility, strength, control, and mobility through movement. Leave the workshop with a new way of thinking about how to move your spine through your regular classes, and your daily life.
Ready to join us on the mat?
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