Many postures crossed my mind when thinking which to write about today, but I finally settled on Bujangasana. This is because it is a posture that personally I have not really delved into or understood properly as I have always favoured Urdva Mukha Svanasana (upward facing dog), figuring that was the more advanced option of the two, so if I could do that with ease what was the need for Bujangasana, seeing it more as a warm up. After 20 years of practicing I’m happy to admit how completely wrong I've been.
I have been teaching for almost 10 years, and during that time I have striven to keep learning, but in all that time I have never been taught back bending in the way my current teacher, Archara Venkatesh is teaching it, and I have to say my lower back and spine in general has never felt so good as a result of practicing his Hatha yoga method.
Previously, my approach to Bujangasana was the same as I (and most other teachers I have studied with) approach back bends, which is to always keep the lower back free from pain by encouraging the lengthening and opening of the thoracic spine so as to free the lumbar region. However, I have come to see that avoiding sensation in the lower back is not necessarily the best methodology to strengthen and improve the flexibility of this region of the spine. Some pains are definitely warning signs, and up until recently I had been mistaking the irritation I felt in the lower back when practicing back bends as something to be avoided, but some pains are invitations to move your awareness deeper into the body; invitations to practice equanimity in the face of uncomfortable sensations and observe discomfort dispassionately. In this way one comes to see pain as a gift, a key to unlock the doors of our attention so that we may be here now with whatever is arising. Bujangasana offers us an opportunity to put this philosophy into practice.
Of course it is always good to have a good teacher observe you when you practice asana. However, if you have been practicing regularly for a while I invite you to practice Bujangasana and don’t avoid the discomfort in your lowerback but gently move toward it, explore it and try not to react immediately to what you discover. Stay there for a few minutes giving the sensations you come upon your full attention as you breathe, allowing your breath to flow softly and naturally.
The nature of pain under the light of awareness is that it will reach a peak and subside, and in fact Yoga therapy is very much based on this principal; heal yourself by bringing a greater awareness to the tender parts of your body or mind. As Kahil Gibran writes in The Prophet, ‘...pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding’. Move into the posture with the legs extended, buttocks engaged, shoulders drawn gently down and back and try to extend the elbows. Use your discrimination to judge how far to lift up, and once you’ve set your allignment up correctly close your eyes and just witness your experience. The students I’m currently working with have built up towards staying in Bujangasana for 7 minutes with Archarya reminding us ‘the lower back is where all your fear and negative emotion is stored. Just stay longer and Bujangasana will will help you to overcome all your fear’. Try it and see for yourself.
If we can approach the postures we find ourselves avoiding with courage and calm, we can retrain our minds to be less afraid of what ever these postures bring up for us. In this way we use the body to expose our unconscious aversions to our consciousness so that we may move through our fears with bravery and reset some of the negative patterns of our conditioning.
Week 3 of the yoga therapy course I’m currently studying on (at Atmavikasa, Mysore, India) has just come to an end signalling the half way mark. At present I am so full of gratitude to have been lucky enough to spend time with Arcarya Venkatesh and Acharye Hema, two teachers who teach with their whole being and walk the talk more than I can express. I would recommend anyone who’s serious about deepening their understanding of yoga to study with them.