Bending Over Backwards
I recently completed an intensive 4 weeks of back bending techniques at Atmavikasa yoga shala in Mysore, India. I did this to increase my knowledge for teaching purposes but also because I have always avoided backbends in my own practice, favoring where possible preferred forward bends, and thought it time to confront my resistance to these challenging postures head on.
14 other people were crazy enough to share this most painful of experiences with me, and many of these lovely people relished the opportunity to move deeper into their back bending and actually enjoyed the whole process from the beginning (including my incredibly dedicated and flexible friend Elizabeth Cheek pictured above). Personally i have been practicing the Astanga second series (which focuses on back bending) for some time and did not expect to find my limitations and the accompanying sensations so severe.
Archarya Venkatesh has a talent at finding weakness and a further talent at extracting that weakness as he takes the students to new levels of self-knowledge in the process. I don't think any other teacher could have persuaded me that what I was feeling during some of the back bending techniques was ok. The level of pain and fear arising at times seemed unmanageable and certainly not good for the body. However, I sit here writing this blog with a body that feels younger, more flexible, and more vital than ever.
Through a deep focus on natural breathing and the cultivation of a new understanding of the role and function of pain, Acharya Venkatesh guides his students masterfully towards there current limits of movement and pain tolerance, and then he takes them beyond those limits. These limits are not only physical, they are mental and emotional too.
I have never experienced such a direct correlation between asana (yoga postures) and the release of negative samskaras (patterns of conditioning stored in our neurophysiology). At moments I almost screamed out loud 'i don't want to do this anymore'. I remember aparticular shoulder opening sequences which directly released a rage I hadn't felt since my 20's. But instead of reacting I was able to observe my breath and watch the anger without feeding it. Can you imagine if one were to practice in this way everyday, how much lighter one would feel. This is the power of asana practiced consciously without avoidance or attachment.
Many thanks to Atmavikasa for the teachings I have received.