What Washing Blueberries and Doing Backbends Have in Common
***This is post number 1 in my backbend series***
There’s been some discussion lately about how not washing wild blueberries might actually give us certain health benefits. Of course, before that, another study said for sure to wash them. One study says this, another says that, so what to do??
We can read/hear/watch conflicting information on almost anything and this includes yoga. But for the purposes of my blog here on backbends, here’s the key question: Have we been doing our backbends all wrong?
My answer: just like opinions on everything from washing or not washing blueberries, what diet works best for you, etc., the answers ultimately lie in your understanding the reasons behind the information and then making the best decisions for yourself.
In this light, as yoga instructors, how do we know the best way to cue for backbends when even the experts cue it differently?
The internet is a great resource for answering these questions. But when we read an article:
- Do we know if they’re well-versed in what they’re writing about?
- When we want to apply the information to ourselves (as in the case with advanced and/or challenging yoga poses) do we really know how to do this safely for ourselves?
If this is the first blog of mine that you’re reading, I’ll remind you: I’m not here to say there is a right and wrong way.
I create my blogs to present the different viewpoints from reputable instructors, physical therapists and other experts in their fields so that we, as yoga instructors or curious yogis, can remain open minded and educated and know that there is more than one way to practice the physical poses in yoga.
I do the research for you then share what each expert has to say and try to break it down in a simplified, understandable way. This takes time, but my passion is doing the extensive research then providing you with the information I’ve obtained so you can decide for yourself how to apply the information into your classes or practices.
In my opinion, we need to be aware of the ultimate goal when teaching advanced or challenging poses and understand why we are cueing them a specific way.
We should be able to offer more as teachers than just reading something on line, sticking it into a class without first understanding the intention behind the cues. Or as students understanding our unique practices beyond, “Because my teacher said so.”
So here we go – backbends!
Let’s face it: backbends are beautiful, but when I see pictures all over Facebook and Instagram of deep backbends, I often cringe. Not because they are doing anything wrong, but because I know so many students strive to accomplish variations of these often beautiful and challenging yoga poses at the cost of becoming too flexible or pushing themselves into a pose that may cause them pain down the road.
The majority of us hear that flexibility is good for you, and it is. But what does flexibility of the spine as it applies to backbends really mean and how much flexibility do we really need?
My answer: it depends on your body.
There are so many factors that go into practicing a safe backbend (modified or deep). It’s a balance between strength and flexibility, the overall health of the spinal discs, if we are overly mobile in one area in the back and less so in another, and what the ultimate goal is.
Here’s what you can expect in this series:
- 4 different opinions on backbends from experts in their field with backgrounds in anatomy and biomechanics
- Figuring out if deep backbends are “good” for you
- Objective information from the experts made easier to understand
- My take-away from these sources
And here’s what one typically encounters when researching a topic on the internet: For example, when doing my research on backbends, I came across a blog from an instructor and here’s what she had to say:
“Backbends are important and useful when it comes to maintaining health, youth, and longevity of your body. No matter how you feel, you should backbend every day. And remember, all of the health gurus believe that nothing will keep your body youthful quite like flexibility. Your back takes up a significant part of your body, and is therefore worth working on.”
Sound familiar right?
While segments of these quotes aren’t necessarily wrong, and I’m sure she meant no harm in writing this blog there are too many blogs/articles like this floating around in the yoga world…and people believe every word of them.
The average yogi, especially someone newer to the practice may see this post with its associated pictures (of deep backbends) and think it’s important to become this “flexible” in the spine and the only way to achieve that is through deep backbends (the photos are not from the original blog, but are similar).
I agree that we need to keep each segment of the spine mobile, and backbends are an important vehicle for doing so, but are deep backbends necessary for this?
From reading her blog, it’s hard to know what type of backbend she’s discussing (moderate, supported, deep) because she doesn’t specify. The teacher just says “backbends” and the pictures that are associated with this article are of deep backbends.
Some readers are likely to believe that if he or she wants to stay “youthful” they should be practicing the backbends shown…everyday!
We NEED to understand, especially as yoga instructors, when we write something like this and provide correlating photos that’s all readers need as proof and off they go to apply it to their practice or instruction!
We have come a long way in the safety and science of yoga since I started teaching over 20 years ago. While science isn’t everything and honoring the lineage and authentic practice is still important, I believe it’s also important to educate ourselves on the possible ramifications of certain poses and realize there are multiple ways and cues to practice the same pose.
This is why I’m passionate about doing the research for you!
First we need to define backbend.
Like most people, when I hear the word backbend, I think of a full backbend/full wheel.
What does healthy range of motion mean? For most of us, it means moving the spine in flexion, extension, lateral flexion, and rotation, but what is healthy range of motion for backbends?
That is what’s important to understand, not that deep backbends are unhealthy (I’m not ready to come out and declare that quite yet) but deep backbends can, for many of us, take us beyond a healthy range of motion especially when practicing them from the most flexible and vulnerable segments of the spine.
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