My favorite thing to hear as a teacher after yoga class is, “That was so fun!”
My very close second favorite thing to hear is, “I needed that so much!”
Let’s be honest. I would love to teach back-to-back handstands and arm balances with some vinyasas tossed into the mix every class. But I just can’t do that.
* cue sigh *
I know, I know. But think of all the other fun things that we can play with other than handstand! Lately we’ve been playing with a ton of backbending. (Well… I’ve been focusing on backbends a lot in my own practice lately. And Nicci always requests heart openers in my classes. So relatively “lately.”) It started with quad-opening for my runner students after Hood to Coast. Then it turned into prepping for Back to Back Backbends, our two part backbend workshop at Flex & Flow.
Backbends are complex and take a lot of prep work. It’s tempting to try to go as deep as you can as quickly as you can. To build to a peak pose that includes a backbend requires building throughout the flow and a lot of deepening backbends throughout the class. No flinging into these poses, y’all!
This weekend was really a test to this idea, of doing what I need rather than just what’s fun, of listening to what my body was telling me rather than pushing myself to do what I know I’m physically capable of. During class after our run on Saturday, I started to feel a pinch in my shoulder blade. After not loosening up after a number of times through the flow, I backed way off. Which I hate doing. It felt slightly better on Sunday, but the pinch was still present during class. I was able to take most flow offerings (gettin’ all kinds of “yoga” up in here!), but with nary a handstand. I’ve been feeling so strong in my handstands and in incorporating them into my flow practice, but I decided to honor what my body was trying to tell me. I also wanted to save some juice for Nicci‘s backbend workshop directly after class. I knew it was going to be a marathon practice rather than a sprint situation.
Nearly three hours of practice. Some twinges, some feel-good pinnacle poses, and a lot of tired body later, I was excited to be able to give into the “need.” Some sunshine actually began to appear and I really wanted to (well, actually I wanted to want to) go run, but I took a much-needed relaxing afternoon that included:
- legs up against the wall
- the Portland bowl from Canteen (add avocado, obviously)
- Saved By The Bell (The College Years!) marathon (Are Zack and Kelly back together??)
- a shoulder massage from Caitlin (thanks for trying to get out that twinge!)
- wine with Elizabeth
All the makings of a relaxing day! It wasn’t necessarily the most exciting day. But it was wonderful and exactly what I needed. Doing what you need isn’t always the most fun / sexy / exciting thing, but it’s important and necessary!
Listening to your body’s needs doesn’t always lead to the prettiest, sexiest, deepest practice you’ll ever have. But it’s about the (ultra) marathon and not the sprint. It’s about building a foundation for long-term progress and not instant results. Getting into a pose once, whether it’s through flinging or a culmination of work and effort, means nothing. Hurting yourself to get into a pose or “accomplishing” a pose and checking it off the list isn’t what yoga is about. It’s consistently incorporating these physical expressions into our practice of asana in ways that enhance our long-term happiness and health. I’m all for working towards “goals” within our practices; there are always new variations, poses, transitions to work on. But not at the expense of safety. Every variation of every posture won’t be available every day, but some variation will be.
Yesterday we learned about the principles of backbends from Nicci, about lengthening tailbone away from the heart, opening the chest, stretching the hip flexors. All of these facets make up backbends, and all are incredibly variable. A stressful day leads to tight shoulders, a long run leads to cramped hips, sleeping in awkward positions leads to kinks and cramps anywhere and everywhere. Some days, yes, it’ll be there and it’ll be glorious. Others, things will feel tight and no bueno. This is difficult but important to remember. But by allowing your body to tell you what it’s ready for each day on the mat, progress will safely be accomplished over time.
Come on out to play in inverted backbends with me tonight at Flex & Flow! That can initially sound kind of scary. But after everything we just talked about, that there are pretty much safe variations of every posture you can do at any given time, there’s no reason to not give it a go! We’ll keep alignment and spinal safety in the forefront of our practice as we get bendy and play with getting bent while upside down. Sign up here, and see you there!