urdhva – upward
dhanu – bow
Backbending can be intense, but it is wonderfully healing. It comes at the end of the seated postures, immediately before the finishing postures in the Ashtanga Primary Series. When I was living in Scotland with an immense amount of stress, this pose brought me to tears, not because of physical sensations, but because it was releasing the worries about my sister’s health, my trying relationship, and pressures to do well in culinary school. I’d lay there after each backbend, silently trying to hold in the overwhelming emotions pouring out. When I was living in Italy, this pose would once again bring tears to my eyes because of the relationship issues and depression I was going through. Now that I am in a more stable period in my life, I do this pose without crying. Sometimes though, especially when I go weeks without practicing, it will release strong emotions which I’ve been stuffing down my throat.
This posture is essential for keeping your heart chakra open, while staying grounded to the earth. In the photograph, I’m in a partial backbend, but I always do at least three full backbends (the bow/wheel). One spring I was doing a yoga workshop in Boulder with internationally renowned yoga master Richard Freeman. We did at least five backbends and in my own practice two or three was enough. “Why so many backbends?” I asked shyly during class. Richard explained that it cleanses the nervous system and opens the psoas muscles which hold trauma. It opens up your chest, therefore opening up your heart to new perspectives. Now every time when my mind jumps in the way like a bus and tells me to just do a few backbends, I remind myself of the healing properties this pose brings. Days I do fewer backbends, I am more unstable, quick to anger, and sad. Days I practice five full backbends, I am open to new possibilities, full of courage, stable, and I can breathe. This pose lengthens your spine, relieves chronic neck and back pain, stretches the abdominal muscles, internal organs, lungs, and chest, tones your arms, legs, abs, back, wrists, and spine, stimulates the thyroid and pituitary glands, and helps with infertility, asthma, depression, and osteoporosis. It relieves stress and insomnia. Holding this for five breaths, five times, is like having an intense therapy session. You may want to cry, but it’s an incredible release of stress which heals your mind, heart, and body daily.
I like Kino MacGregor’s thoughts on this posture. You can read more about backbending in the link below. “One of the deepest lessons in the yoga practice is about brining the energy up the spine and cleansing the nervous system. Backbends thrust your full life force up through this central channel and burn through blockages along the way. When one of these blockages gets triggered it really does not matter whether you are doing a deep backbend or a beginner backbend because the emotional state that gets triggered is really of paramount importance. When things are difficult, scary and emotional it is hard to remain clam, breathe and think clearly. This is where the guidance of an experienced teacher is crucial. They can support your process, direct your body with sound instruction and finally give the process back over to you when you’re ready.”