Where should we be bending from and how far in Backbends? Opinion from Judith Hanson Lasater
***This is post number 4 in my backbend series***
Judith Hanson Lasater, Ph.D., Physical Therapist, and long time yoga instructor, author, and one of the founders of Yoga Journal
A friendly reminder: I want my students and myself to be able to practice yoga for the long haul with as little risk to injury as possible. I know we can’t always prevent this due to genetics, bone structure, and what else we do in daily life, but we can empower ourselves by better understanding our own body and making decisions from a place of knowledge.
I love this quote from Dr. Ray Long who is an orthopedic surgeon and also teaches yoga. “What is the difference between caution and fear?” Participants responded without hesitation that caution stems from knowledge, wisdom, and truth. Conversely, fear and fear-based actions come from a lack of knowledge, wisdom, or truth.” My blog posts are meant to help you gain knowledge and wisdom so that you can empower your practice.
Here’s what Judith says about the backbend dhanurasana.
“BEGIN BY LOCATING your sacrum with your hand.
When you are ready for back bends in your practice, fold your blanket in half and then in half again, and place it on your mat. Lie on your belly (unless you are pregnant). Take a moment to place your hand over your sacrum again, to be sure of its location. Stretch out first one leg and then the other to lengthen the abdomen and upper thigh area.
Bend your knees one by one and clasp the ankles. With an exhalation, lift up into Dhanurasana. Pay attention to what happens to the sacrum as you do this. It will be nutating S1 down toward the mat as your lumbar spine extends. Hold for a few breaths and come down, resting a moment before repeating.”
- This sounds a lot like what Esther says. Judith isn’t saying to exclusively bend from S1, but rather to begin the bend from that spot. I think the biggest take away for me is the importance of nutating- in other words not tucking the pelvis under, but rather nodding it slightly forward.
- I find it interesting that she says to exhale on our way up into a backbend because we usually hear to inhale as we lift into a backbend. I believe she’s saying exhale to lift up because when we exhale we create a slight engagement of the core, and this is believed to help protect our spine in backbends.
“This time, focus your attention on the S1 vertebra. Reach back and place your fingers on S1 to remind yourself exactly where it is in your body. Now, as you exhale and lift up into the pose again, consciously press S1 to the floor and imagine that everything else is lifting upward. With this thought, you are consciously facilitating nutation. Remember, nutation must accompany extension[…]”
- Many years ago I used to use the cue to tuck the tailbone when backbending because that’s what I was taught and I didn’t question it, but after seeing, talking to, and reading enough about nutating the pelvis (slight tilt forward), and how this action needs to be present for the health of backbends, I no longer (been years!) say to tuck. However, we don’t want to feel crunchy in the low back, so whether it be a slight brace of the core, a conscious elongation of the spine, or trying to move the backbend up the back around the heart to help “de-crunch” the low back, we need to play a little with different cues to see what feels best for our unique body – what feels good for you may not feel good for someone else.
Posts in this series:
- Backbends – Part 1: What Washing Blueberries and Doing Backbends Have in Common
- Backbends – Part 2: Where should we be bending from and how far in Backbends? Opinion from Esther Gokhale
- Backbends – Part 3: Where should we be bending from and how far in Backbends? Opinion from Rachel Krentzmen
- Backbends – Part 4: Where should we be bending from and how far in Backbends? Opinion from Judith Hanson Lasater
- Backbends – Part 5: Where should we be bending from and how far in Backbends? Opinion from Dr. Stuart McGill
- Backbends – Part 6: Where should we be bending from and how far in Backbends? Opinion from Pam Udell