Bikram Yoga SLC student Lori Stromness
So many great tips from Tomasz Goetel at Yoga Evolution Studio on back bending that we just had to share! You can find his blog by clicking "here".
I hear often from students who practice Bikram yoga that their back hurts after class! That’s not very good news! I would recommend you look at the standing back-bend in detail, there may lie the cause.
First and most important: LIFT UP through the chest toward the ceiling to support your sacrum – make sure you don’t “crunch” into your lower back.
Secondly: proceed SLOWLY when coming in!
Ground the feet into the floor, engage your inner thigh muscles, contract the buttocks together, mula bandha active.
Lift your ‘heart up’, relax your neck, and let your head fall back. There should be a space at the back of the neck.
Keep your arms straight, look back (not up), and reach back.
Go slowly at first. Then, increase the intensity. Give yourself a tangible goal, each time you exhale – lift the rib cage up and reach back through the arms one inch, repeat with each exhaling breath. Hips press slightly forward, it is good to shift the weight back to heels, toes can lift off the mat. Legs must be straight at the knees. Inhale to come back to standing straight.
If you have a sensitive neck, it is okay to keep your head between the arms (ears and arms together). If you have a lower back issue/injury, place the palms of your hands in your lower back and drop your head back only as far as comfortable on your neck/lower back. The way to practice (and teach) this posture is “less at the beginning, more towards the end”. Don’t be frustrated, if you can’t go as far back as the others. The “back-bending” is one of the most advanced parts of Yoga posture practice.
Give yourself plenty of time, there’s no rush.
IMPORTANT: We need your pelvis in a neutral position. Tuck in the tailbone, drawing it down toward the back of the heels. Common beginner’s mistake: the tailbone/butt sticks out, then the lower back gets “crunched” and hurts the next day from inflammation!
Beginners tip: if you need to hold your breath in this exercise, that’s okay.
Here’s a GREAT KEY to standing back-bending: “Strong legs, flexible spine.”
Here’s another one: “Work from the feet up.” Ground the feet, engage the inner thighs, contract the gluts. You will eventually shift your weight slightly towards the heels.
The “strong” feeling in the legs and hips is the foundation of this back bend.
We’re lifting up through “the heart”, as we reach back out of the chest through the arms.
Learn to see the back-wall behind you, but instead of dropping back, continue lifting up through the sternum. Then, straighten out the elbows and squeeze you palms together flat.
If you like, hold the position a few seconds longer than the rest of the class, the come back up with control and go straight to Padahastasana with no unnecessary movement.
Intermediate tip: look BACK behind you, not up.
“Strong legs, flexible spine.” As you can already see the back wall, begin to relax your lower back. Drop the head even further back and begin to look for the floor behind you. Isolation: inner thighs engaged, gluts (buttocks) engaged AND lower back muscles relaxed!
Once you see the floor behind you – look for the back edge of your yoga mat. The next step is to see your heels, your arms will be pointing down towards the ground behind you.
Advanced considerations: the back-bends explore the heart-chakra and its psychology. Here we approach our capacity to give and receive love. The heart is the Yogi’s “mission control center”. Back-bends explore this area of ourselves and offer a tremendous contribution to our emotional development, and general well-being!
Common teaching mistakes: not giving the students enough time to do this backbend and/or rushing them in/out this pose. In my class, you’d have as much as 30 SECONDS to do this part of half-moon (10 seconds to set up, 20 seconds in the pose).
The most important – offer the following modifications:
- Head between the arms for sensitive neck.
- Hands flat on the lower back for back injuries.
- Careful coming down to Padahastasana after the half-moon: bend the knees, hands on thighs on the way down to protect the lower back.
- No back-bends in pregnancy. Teach active Mountain Pose instead?
- Tailbone sticks out – bad for the lower back.
- Eyes closed – danger of falling back.
- Rushing into the pose (this is very common in bikram) – chances of injury, lack of satisfaction.
- If your Students are getting lower-back pain from class, the first thing we must evaluate is the alignment of their standing back-bend.