Friday, April 5, 2013

More backbending thoughts; April come she will

As I worked on my backbends this morning, more things from Kino's recent LA workshop came up in my mind. One thing that came up most prominently is the importance of positive self-talk when doing difficult postures, especially in backbends. In an Elephant Journal article she wrote last year, Kino observes that:

"In a posture like backbends many students feel a shortening of breath, tightening of the air tube, an inability to breath and the ensuing panic that brings them out of the posture. Some people might say that in that case the student should not do the posture.

But yoga is about learning to balance the mind so that it meets pleasure and pain, attachment and aversion with the same steadiness."


This is where having the ability to continually give oneself instructions that reinforce certain positive habits while in the posture becomes important. Or, as Kino puts it: 


"If you are able to maintain both careful and clear directions to yourself throughout the exercise and your inner dialogue is positive this will help you. In other words you need to be your own coach."


With respect to deep backbends like Kapotasana, positive self-talk for me involves repeating certain specific movement instructions to myself ("Ground the big toes firmly to the mat, rotate the thighs inward, bring the ASIS forward and up, bring the shoulder blades down the upper back, breathe evenly. Repeat..."). I have found this to be very helpful in helping me to do productive work in my backbends. 


At her workshop, Kino mentions that the importance of positive self-talk/self-dialogue is often neglected in yoga circles. This is due in no small part to the notion many people have that yoga should be about "quieting the mind." Basing themselves on this notion, many people try to deliberately shut their minds off when they are getting into difficult postures. But such an approach is at best unproductive and anxiety-producing, and at worst harmful and injurious to oneself; if one shuts one's mind off and just pushes blindly through difficult postures, one would likely miss important cues from the body.  


Perhaps more significantly, in shutting off one's mind, one misses a valuable opportunity to find equanimity in the posture and to become truly, truly present in that difficult moment that the posture presents in one's consciousness. Positive self-talk is the tool that enables one to find this place of presence in the heat of the posture: Through giving oneself positive messages that will enable one to focus on what one needs to work on in the posture in that particular moment, one can navigate steadily through the storm that the posture stirs up in one's body and mind. This, I believe, is what is truly meant by "Yogas Chitta Vrtti Nirodhah" ("Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of consciousness")



On a very different note, we are now in the month of April and the beginning of spring. It's hard not to notice this, because the weather is definitely getting warmer, and one can finally smell the grass and hear the birds again. Well, actually, if you are blessed enough to live in, say, Thailand, none of this would probably make a difference to you; I imagine you are able to smell the grass and hear the birds all year around anyway...


But not all souls are equally blessed in this way. So for those of us who do not live in lands where the grass smells and birds sing all year round, the coming of April is a significant time of the year. Whenever I think of this, I can't help thinking of that Simon and Garfunkel song. In fact, it's ringing in my head right now. So maybe, rather than just let it ring in my head alone, I'll make it ring in yours too! Well, here goes: 



  1. This song is so beautiful..but very sad... made me cry!! As weird as it seems I will miss the snow dearly when it is gone.. Kristal T.

  2. I forget how beautiful the music those two made really is. Nice treat. Happy Spring!

  3. pretty much the same song, from benjamin britten:

  4. interesting post, and i do like the idea of positive self talk. i can't manage to be present enough (other than breathing!) in my backbending to coach myself through it..though there are certain things i try to do each time, at least from the floor. perhaps a certain amount of stability is required before this can really be implemented

    i have noticed, however, that a well placed mental -you can do it! really works before some other poses- like rolling up either into kukkutasana or urdhva mukha paschimattasana