Let’s face it. I’m a little passionate about backward bending. Right now my students are probably laughing at the word “little.” I am more than a bit intense when delivering the dialogue to that first backward bend in the Bikram Series. But honestly it’s one of my favorite moments in class for it truly is the first time you have to let go of any doubts and fears and release to the moment.
When you first start practicing you usually will only drop the head back and pray that this posture will soon be over. Backward bending is a lot to ask of a person who would never attempt this in their normal life. Most of us when we enter the hot room for the first time have no gymnastics or dance training that would expect you to drop into back compressions to achieve the look of the line of the body that is required for a back flip or layout.
As you become bolder in your practice you then decide to trust – going further, releasing back, passing your limits. But usually you wait to go back to your absolute limit at the final part of the dialogue – “Look back, go back, way back, more back.” Which is still phenomenal work. Deciding there is more within you is no small thing.
Eventually you find the stillness within the posture. That slow flow of breath that lets you know you could probably hold this for a couple of minutes with no trouble at all, going all the way back to your absolute limit and sticking it.
Conquering your fears is really what back bending and strengthening of the spine is all about. I am one of those people who constantly have worst-case scenarios playing out in my head at any time. When I was road tripping throughout the country to the various theatres I performed at in my 20s and early 30s my worst fear was having some sort of breakdown on the side of the road. Looking back on that time, I didn’t even know how to change a tire, yet I would drive halfway across the country in one day if I needed to. I was so paranoid that as soon as the gas tank hit the quarter mark I would stop and fill up immediately never knowing how long it might take to find the next gas station.
Once, when I was closing a show out in Arizona over Christmas break my husband decided to fly out, see the show and then we would take the next week and a half to get back home stopping at all of the sights we wanted to see throughout the southwest. This was one of those unforgettable trips. We hiked in Sedona, Arizona, hiked the entire south rim of the Grand Canyon and then decided to head up to Las Vegas for a couple of days. It was a relief to have someone to share the driving with, as I was usually driving alone to get from theatre to theatre. And after having spent 8 weeks apart it was great to have quality time with the husband.
But my husband didn’t agree with my method of constantly stopping early to fill up the gas tank. We were headed up to Las Vegas from the Grand Canyon in the evening. It was already dark and starting to rain when the gaslight came on. I calmly looked at the map (yes this was prior to having GPS) to figure out where we were. 40 miles. 40 miles to the next town. We were on a barren road in the mountains at night. Nowhere near anyone we knew or anyplace that we knew. Panic. Adrenaline. Anxiety….and then a very quiet calm. What I had always feared was going to happen and there was no way for me to get out of it. I just had to go through it.
My husband slowed down, trying to conserve some gas to get us closer to the nearest town. He seemed a little freaked out as well. The minutes clicked by as we anticipated the car to finally come to a halt. But for some reason it never did. By some miracle we actually made it to the town 40 miles away. We probably pulled in on fumes, but we made it.
When I think back on this story what makes the most impression on me is the calm. Here I was in the middle of what I truly feared at that time and I just knew I had to face it and get through it. This calm is the same feeling I find when I get into the first backbend in the Bikram Series. Backward bending is something that your just have to face and get through and know that when it’s all over you’ll be fine. So go for it. Find your calm within the storm and let go of whatever may be holding you back.
(On a side note, two months later my husband was driving on the highway and the gaslight came on. He thought after our experience he would have no problem getting home, but ran out of gas in about 20 miles. It was a different car, but I find this amusing still the same. Sometimes you have to admit that you had a miracle when you have one.)