Would you allow me to follow you through a perfectly normal, average day of yours? Forgive me, am just assuming things here, but I guess you get up and sit down for breakfast. You walk to the tube/bus/car and sit down for the time of the ride. You walk to your office and sit down at your desk. For lunch, you go to the canteen/restaurant/cafe and sit down to eat. Back to your office, you sit down at your desk, followed by sitting down on the way back home, at the dinner table and on your sofa.
What’s the keyword here? Exactly. Sit. We’re sitting all day, allowing our front body to become shorter and shorter. Well, not the body, really, but the muscles (think of the hip flexors which are busy flexing all day…). The icing of the cake here is the hunched back that we cultivate every day when staring at our screens and typing away on our keyboards.
I keep on going on about this because it’s directly linked to the title of this post (yes, there is a link, bear with me one second). People often talk about what to their mind might be the most challenging yoga posture. And indeed, putting your leg behind your head, doing a full split and standing on your hands might be pretty challenging on a physical level. But the deeper I managed to dive into yoga, the more I appreciated the fact that there are postures which are challenging more on a mental than a physical level.
It all started when I did back bends. They are outright scary. It’s not something we normally do in our daily life (as we’ve seen above), so the muscles don’t allow for spectacular range of movement in most people. But apart from the shocking stiffness our bodies might throw into our faces (take that!), there’s another, more subtle level.
Back bending means bending into the void. Of course there’s no such thing as a “void” behind us, but as our world is the summary of puzzle pieces our organs of perception feed back to us, and our eyes are simply not on our back, there isn’t really anything we can perceive behind us. Back bending is diving, falling into empty space, trusting that there is a floor, a carpet, a mat we can rely on. It’s there, our intellect knows it is, but our mind is driving nuts: “Imagine, everything that could happen!”
We’re touching a sensitive point here. There’s a reason why students feel such a sense of relief and so energised after a back bending session. Back bending allows you to face your fears and what is more, overcome them. It forces you to make the lower mind, the scared self, shut up and to just open up to the experience. Back bending develops trust in the practice and unties these awful knots of fear we sometimes feel stuck in our throat.
There’s a beautiful video posted by Kino MacGregor which really is back bending at its best (don’t try this without an experienced teacher):