Thursday, October 4, 2012

Technology, backbends, leg-behind-head postures, saying yes and saying no

It's official: Technology is a bitch. Can't live with it. Can't live without it. And yes, I do know the irony of this pronouncement: You wouldn't even be reading this if you didn't have access to technology.

I guess I should explain this rather random-seeming rant on my part. Well, here goes: This morning, in response to a comment Claudia left on my recent post on adding Ekapada Sirsasana about the energetic effects of leg-behind-head postures on the mind/body, I dug up my copy of Gregor Maehle's Ashtanga Yoga--The Intermediate Series to get the full explanation of the energetic effects of said postures. I know that Maehle has some very interesting and illuminating things to say about the relationship between backbends, LBH postures, and how they work together in a synergistic fashion in the Intermediate Series in order to strengthen and make the spine vibrant, to prepare it for the eventual ascent of Kundalini Shakti up the spine. I had typed out the relevant passages from the book into a word document and saved it onto a flash drive, intending to paste it onto this blog to share with the entire world--well, I mean, with all of you who take the time to read this blog-- when I get to this coffeeshop from which I am now writing (My internet connection at home has been very spotty of late).

Alas, this was not to be. When I got here, I stuck the flash drive into my computer, and tried opening the file, only to realize that it had been corrupted! I got into panic mode, and started transferring as many uncorrupted files and folders as possible from that flash drive to my computer. Fortunately, I managed to salvage most of my files: It appears that the corruption has not spread to most of the files in that flash drive.

But what that means is that those passages from Maehle that I had painstakingly typed out are lost--gone forever in the abyss of cyber-corruption.

Well, no use crying over spilt milk (or corrupted files). Let me now do my best to see how much I can remember from what I read from Maehle this morning. Oh, by the way, whatever I'm about to say can be found on page 106 and pages 134 to 135 of the book (I'm good at remembering numbers :-)). So if you actually have the book, you probably should just go read these pages now, rather than read my half-assed summary from memory :-)

But here's my half-assed summary: First, according to Maehle, backbends are a very important part of the asana practice, because in the process of doing advanced backbends like Kapotasana, you lengthen the spine and release the trunk extensor muscles, paving the way for kundalini shakti to rise up from its sleep at the base of your spine. At the same time, by opening up the rib cage, which is commonly regarded as the "cage" or the "armor" of our selves, backbends tend to make us more sympathetic and accommodating to the views of others, especially those views that are contrary to our own.

However, too much opening without a corresponding "closing up" and drawing of boundaries is no good: You can't say yes to people all the time (especially to crappy people: see this post by James for more details.). Which is where the LBH postures come into the picture. The extreme forward-bending facilitated by the opening of the hip joints in these postures symbolize and cultivate the strength to draw boundaries and say "no" to things and people that we need to say no to. I, for one, definitely have issues with saying no; see, for instance, this post. So I probably should do more LBH postures :-) On a purely physiological level, the LBH postures also cultivate strength in the trunk extensor and abdominal muscles, by making them work together to support the weight of the leg behind the neck. This, as you probably notice, is the diametric opposite of the releasing action that is demanded of these muscles in deep backbends. On a symbolic level, the ability to bear weight with these muscles also symbolize the shouldering of responsibility and the cultivation of humility and forbearance in one's own life.

Well, this is my half-assed summary. Thanks for reading it, if you made it this far. I hope you find it useful. Oh, one other thing: In his explanation, Maehle also makes a lot of references to Freud and the "anal" and the "oral" dimensions of our psyches, but since I know very little about Freud, I've decided not to try to reproduce what he says here. Moreover, I'm always a bit wary of super-imposing western psychoanalytic frameworks onto yoga; I often wonder whether in the process of understanding yoga through psychoanalytic lenses, we end up distorting at least as much as we understand. But I'm way out of my depth here, so I'll stop here. Oh, and if you don't happen to own a copy of Maehle's book, you might be interested in getting a copy here :-)



  1. Sometimes when the file is corrupt it is due to not properly ejecting the flash drive before removing it from your computer.

    This happens to me sometimes. I never seem to be less annoyed.

    Thanks for your summary :)

    1. Yes, the corruption could be caused by improperly ejecting the flash drive from the computer. But I basically went into full panic mode yesterday, googled a few technical explanations on chatrooms, quickly concluded that my flash drive is kaputt, and promptly bought a new one. So the improper ejection hypothesis is moot at this point. But I'll keep this in mind for future reference. Thanks :-)

      P.S. All this is probably way more information than you were bargaining on.