Thursday, January 20, 2011

Practice, and some random musings on backbend epiphanies

Did full primary and second up to Supta Vajrasana this morning.

Practice was good. Primary was strong and smooth. Grabbed my ankles in kapotasana today. Made me think of Grimmly's recent post about how deep backbends feel. To me, kapotasana always feels very intense in a good way. I don't consider myself a natural backbender, because I don't feel as comfortable in a deep backbend as I feel in a deep paschimottanasana. So for me, backbends are very much about getting the body (and mind) to go beyond what it is comfortable with, to boldly go where my body/mind hasn't gone before. It doesn't matter that I have been able to grab my heels consistently and my ankles occasionally for the past few months: Every single kapotasana is a new challenge for my mind/body. There is always a point where my mind/body questions itself: Are you sure you are up to this today? I have found that the way to "silence" this questioning by the mind/body is to not play its game. Basically, I listen and acknowledge the mind/body's question, and then forge on slowly and steadily anyway. I hang back for a few breaths and open my chest till I can see the tips of my toes at the edge of my vision (this is probably a drishti violation, but whatever: I got to do what I got to do. I find this less laborious than just diving down right away and walking that seemingly interminable expanse of mysore rug to my heels). Then I dive and walk my hands to my heels/ankles.

In his recent post, Grimmly wrote that when he gets into a deep backbend,

"I don't get any of the bells and flashes of light, the epiphanies, ekstasis, buckets of tears or kundalini rising, perhaps guys are wired differently."

I basically have the same experience as he does, except that I'm not going to commit to that part about guys being wired differently (don't want to start a gender backbend war on my blog... How many more people can I afford to offend anyway, in light of my recent posts?). Truth be told, I really don't know anything about the wiring of guys vs. gals in backbends (or any other kinds of postures, for that matter), so I'm really not in a position to say anything about this. 

But as I was saying, I basically have the same experience as Grimmly does in deep backbends. I have never, to my knowledge, experienced any kind of epiphany/bucket of tears/kundalini rising... Is it possible to experience the kundalini rising without being aware of it? I don't know. If you know something about this, please share.

Of course, anybody who has taken Philosophy 101 knows that just because something hasn't happened before doesn't mean that it will never happen. For all I know, my next kapo might be the epiphany-magical-experience-kapo. Maybe at the very instant that I grab my heels or ankles, Lord Shiva will descend from the heavens and grant me the boon of teleportation. And then I will be able to go to Mysore right away, and be in one of those very nice Mysore pictures that Claudia and Skippetty regularly post on their blogs! And I'll be able to teleport myself back here to Minnesota every day just before my classes meet. Now that would be pretty cool, wouldn't it?    

But, magical experiences and epiphanies aside, I like to think that practicing deep backbends has a certain effect on one's overall disposition and character, even if I can't scientifically prove it. I feel that, around the time I started doing deep backbends regularly, I also became able to manage fear better in my daily life. I feel that I have become better able to face the uncertainties and unknowns in my life, acknowledge the challenges that they pose, take the necessary actions to address them as they arise, and simply go on with my daily life and handle the tasks and responsibilities of daily life without over-thinking things and succumbing to the fear of the unknown and uncertain future. Of course, as I said, I have no way to prove this with certainty: It's not as if I can do a controlled experiment with my life :-) But I feel it, nonetheless... (Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon: "Do not think, feel...")

Got to go teach my class now. More later. May the Force be with you.


  1. Dear Nobel
    I would not welcome tears, but if deep backbends result in flashes of light, epiphanies and insights, then I will welcome them fully. Trouble is, I'm not there yet. I'm trying to pay attention to nutation, in the case of backbends, counter nutation, to see if that helps in avoiding compressing the lower spine.

  2. Beautiful post Nobel!

    I was firmly in the "deep-backbends-resulted-in bells,-flashes-of-light,-epiphanies,-and-lots of-random-tears" camp for most of a couple years. teacher began to add on the leg-behind-head part of second series. At that point things settled a little bit.

    And then...when my teacher started me on karandavasana, he also split my practice (going straight into pasasana from standing, no primary) and at the same time, he added full vinyasa to my practice
    ....and finally the combination of the extra time to "come up for air" between each backbend by doing the full, coming all the way to standing, vinyasa and a much shorter practice seemed to steady all the emotional fall-out.

    I asked my teacher about all the wierd backbend experiences, which definitely left me very unsettled feeling for awhile! He just kind of shrugged his shoulders and said, no, he didn't have those kinds of experiences in backbends.

    Thanks for sharing your experience! I'm always curious what others experiences are like in backbends. :)

  3. I experience epiphany whenever my body gets placed into a position it's never been placed in before. I don't just mean a new yoga pose; more in a general sense of "my spine has never curved this much backwards ever!" or "my quads have never been stretched like this!" in my 1st ever attempt to do kapotasana. The intensity of feeling fades with regular practice though. Then I'm just working on technically improving the asanas.

    I've heard Arnold (the Governator) talk about how he experiences a high when he lifts really heavy weights. Could just be adrenaline rush (for both yoga and weights).

  4. Arturo, I'm with you about welcoming flashes of light, epiphanies and insights.

    This is just my very non-expert two cents' worth (take it for whatever mileage you can get), but I think that David Keil is probably right when he says that sacral nutation/counter-nutation is not as important to deep back-bending as many of us tend to make it out to be. Creating strength and length in the front of the body (especially the deeper muscles like the psoas) probably brings one a longer way towards deepening backbends without compressing the lower spine. Moreover, it seems that most people (including me) have very limited control over whether or not the sacrum actually nutates or counter-nutates anyway. The way I see it, nutation or counter-nutation is something that either happens or doesn't. I still don't know myself whether my sacrum actually nutates or counter-nutates in kapo.

    But as I said, this is my very non-expert two cents' worth. Also, you have been practicing much longer than I have. So take this for what it's worth.

  5. Christine, do you do full vinyasa in all your practices? Interesting that this should help to steady all the emotional fallout. I've never tried doing full vinyasa before. Do you come all the way to standing between sides, or only between postures?

  6. Very interesting, Yyogini. By "epiphany", do you just mean an intense physical sensation (""my spine has never curved this much backwards ever!" or "my quads have never been stretched like this!"), or is the intense physical sensation also accompanied by some kind of deep and powerful emotional or spiritual experience?

    Hahaha, I never knew that I actually have something in common with the Governator :-)

  7. Well, I don't know about epiphanies, but whenever I've had bells and flashes of light and electrical stuff in my spine, it has happened outside practice when I'm in a super relaxed state. I'm not sure what people are expecting in backbends.. for me doing the pose just makes me feel incredibly good, it's that special 'backbend bliss' when the front of the body really opens and it just feels indescribably good... that is enough! But there's the mental barrier first... practicing passive backbends at home can help to open the body without all the trauma and panic associated with kapotasana. I can touch the backs of my knees, but I feel the same apprehension before every single kapo. I have to consciously calm the nervous system while in the pose using breathing and bandhas. But when I get the spine into the right position, most days, it just feels incredibly good to open that much... I suspect changes my posture and attitude for the rest of the day. I think that finding this feeling, which is very powerful and can make you crave to do backbends throughout the day, is more important than measuring the centimetres gained. Not that I don't always try to go deeper :)

    This experience of calming the nervous system in order to be able to relax and enjoy it really helps in real life, when someone is turning you away at the airport or you are watching your house burn down, etc. I'm able to remain calmer and not freak out. It's directly related I'm sure... this is a skill we practice every day! Funny that in really stressful situations, the first thing to kick in now is ujjayi breath. So I agree with you on the confronting fear thing, Nobel, although I tend to think of it more in strictly nervous system terms.

    The other thing that can happen is when moving into new territory, backbending can make me wired for the rest of the day (like when I need to go to sleep at night). This doesn't happen so much any more, but it's extremely common. And I'm pretty sure deep backbending, along with LBH poses, plays a role in any perceived movement/sensation in the spine later in the day and related effects...

    Sorry for the long and rambling comment!

  8. I guess the fearlessness can be attributed to a combination of two factors:

    1) a more open posture (confident attitude)

    2) an element of control over the nervous system (less tendency to panic)

    Interesting topic, I can always talk about backbends :)

  9. Hi Nobel,
    I do full vinyasa whenever I practice second series (5 days a week), but I do regular half-vinyasa on the day I practice primary. I come to standing between every pose, but not between sides. (I use the vinyasa count in Lino Miele's book.) My teacher (David Keil) said he wouldn't have me doing full vinyasa forever, just for awhile. I've been doing it for a couple years now. It took some getting used to, but I like feeling more "even-keel" after practice. I'm guessing that if I finally make it to the end of second series someday (I'm stopping at Mayurasana at the moment.) that he'll change my practice back to half-vinyasa. I'm curious how things will change as the rest of the series evolves. :)
    I'm headed to David's anatomy workshop in 2 weeks and have some questions in mind on backbending!

  10. Interesting post and discussion Nobel, thanks. It's interesting that you say that your experiences in backbends are the same as Grimmly's as I read his post and comment about women being different and though that you experienced things differently.

    Susan, what great comments you have shared :-)

    Christine, we have the same practice, up to mayurasana but I don't do full vinyasa. I too felt that the leg behind the head poses balanced the effect of backbends somewhat.

    Well as you know, I have had an emotional journey with backbends. They have been very healing for me, I have blogged enough about that I think. I never expected bells and whistles but one day I felt a current of energy going up my spine as my teacher put me into kapotasana. It happened as he brought me to me heels as if that completed a circuit. My savasana that day was also very blissful.

  11. Made my day to read this Susan
    'I can touch the backs of my knees, but I feel the same apprehension before every single kapo. I have to consciously calm the nervous system while in the pose using breathing and bandhas. '
    I thought the apprehension would go away eventually, Damn, it's mostly quite mild now but still always there.

  12. Susan, thanks for your comments. No problem about "long and rambling": "Long and rambling" is good :-)

    You said, "when I get the spine into the right position, most days, it just feels incredibly good to open that much". I'm certainly not at the point where I can touch the backs of my knees, but I certainly can see how it can feel really good. Right now, I think I'm still predominantly a "forward-bender" rather than "back-bender"; when I feel like doing some yoga postures in the middle of the day, the first pose I think of is usually a forward bend; I certainly haven't gotten to the point where I actually crave backbends! But things can always change, I suppose.

    I think there is a certain mystique about deep backbends that makes people expect epiphanies/flashes of light from them.

  13. Hello Christine, thanks for sharing. Look forward to hearing about what you've learnt from David Keil's workshop.

  14. Hello Helen, I like your experience about the current completing the circuit of energy thing. Maybe I'll experience that someday :-)

    Grimmly, I have the same feeling about you regarding the feeling of apprehension. Maybe it will go away someday, or maybe not... Who knows?

  15. Well... you know the way I see it, 2nd series is not flat ground. Other poses can give us problems, but basically there are two 'humps' to get over in the series, and we all know what they are: kapo and karanda. And every time, 'will I do it today / will it be a good one?' and a little extra gathering of focus. Know what I mean? Kapo is an intense event in the body; it is going to affect the nervous system, by its very design. After that, we have some control over how we react to the event... but there is no pretending that this intense event is not going on in the body! Plus there's the fact that no matter how comfortable you get in it, if you are constantly working to your edge, then you are constantly pushing up against that discomfort, and the zone where you might just wig out but instead relax and breathe.

    It CAN be extremely pleasant, but I don't ever expect it to be easy. I'm doing kapotasana, not sitting down having a cup of tea!! :)

  16. Hello Susan, "It CAN be extremely pleasant, but I don't ever expect it to be easy. I'm doing kapotasana, not sitting down having a cup of tea!! :)"

    This is very well-said, and I totally agree withi it :-)

  17. well, Nobel, I read David Keils comments (and I practiced with him way way back in Miami, where he was co-owner back then of Yoga Grove). I agree with him about the thighs. But my thighs, despite being very strong- they bring me up well in Laghu Vajrasana, don't do it so well in coming to standing or in Kapotasana. So I have been internalizing the attention to nutation. It seems that when I counter nutate (push the tail back rather than tucking it in) it helps to not compress the lower spine. One of my problems is that I tend to compress the lower back, which has led to lower back problems. So I think I'm on the right track, all the while I agree and understand why the strength to come up is in the thighs.