Are Backbends Scarier Than Roller Coasters?

Which of these scenarios do you find scarier?

Backbend Thrills?

Roller Coaster Thrills?

The stomach-dropping speed of a roller coaster, or coming into a deep backbend? I personally love roller coasters. Maybe not the loop-de-loop kind seen here, but I love the creaky old wooden roller coasters, the kind that smell like grease and feel like they’re going to blow apart into splinters at any  moment. I even wrote a book about one. But the feeling of being slightly out of control can be one woman’s rush, and another one’s fear.

I noticed this when I first began to practice Camel Pose, Ustrasana, in earnest. Camel requires you to move backward into the unknown, to trust that you’ll be there to meet yourself.

I was doing Bikram yoga when I first began to explore this pose in depth. Funnily enough, Camel is a great pose to help calm anxiety, yet just thinking about it produced anxiety in me! There it was, pose #22 of Bikram’s 26, always waiting for me. I began to feel nauseous as the pose approached and escaped into Child’s Pose many times to avoid doing it.

How could I be so comfortable with the wild undulations of a roller coaster, yet have so much fear around doing a backbend? Gradually I came to stand on my knees, working on getting my pelvis tucked under and my foundation strong. I wouldn’t even reach back at first, I’d just look up with my eyes. Waves of anxiety came and went, some so strong I thought I would vomit. But I continued to stay present, breathing up and down the waves.

The other piece of Ustrasana is that it is a major heart opener. Opening your heart can be scary! It makes us vulnerable to the risk of loss, but it also allows us to receive love more freely. When Camel and I met in Bikram’s class, I was struggling with this balance. Our society encourages us to move forward, to lead with our heads. Camel allows us to surrender the head to the heart, to lead and move from a place of openness and acceptance.

Vertebra by vertebra, day by day, month by month, I began to extend backward, always refining my foundation so that I moved from the upper spine. One day I felt like I could move my hands away from my lower back  and reach back toward my heels. Wow! A major step!

Once you develop flexibility in this pose, you can focus more on the heart opening qualities and on refining your overall posture. Camel stretches the entire front body and is great for opening the lungs and heart, calming anxiety, and relieving fatigue.

To capture the photograph of me in Ustrasana (above), we had to take many shots. Some of the poses I held for 15 breaths or more while my photographer made adjustments. There was a trace of fear and anxiety; I was counting those breaths! I had a lot of time to reflect on how far I had come in this pose. Then I realized I was back in my head, so I took a deep breath and inhaled the beauty of Sunset Cliffs through my heart and CLICK! We were done.

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