Happy Sunday, yogis! I am chilling at the desk at my yoga studio after practicing the 8am class, drinking tea, listening to music, and feeling like a cat... totally relaxed, nice and loose, comfortable, easy, flexible. It's cold and rainy outside (and I biked to the studio today!!), which made it was so nice to be in the hot room this morning.
I was thinking about backbends today (which is like... what's new??) and I realized that I want to amend a comment that I made about them back in June.
For the last few months I've been trying to move my backbend more into the middle and upper spine, instead of relying so much on my super-flexible lower back. This is correct. But I was also being told very strongly by a couple of teachers to STOP using my lower back altogether until I could get more of a bend in my upper spine. I tried doing this for a while, and I do not think it works! It really just made my back hurt to restrict my backbend like that. It was also making me tense my neck up, because that let my arms go back to my ears and created the illusion that my upper spine was bending more. Whoops! PSA (public service announcement) number one: there is nothing in the dialogue about the arms being with the ears. The arms go back TOWARDS the ears, and eventually (in the future) they might touch them, but that is incidental
Here is what I think IS correct: the dialogue. First step, inhale. Next step, drop your head back as far as it goes. Arms back immediately, try to touch the wall. Bend the spine backwards from coccyx to neck. Lower back, middle back, upper back. Total spine backward bending. Push your upper body back, try to fall down backwards. For someone like me, whose natural backbend is kinda like "lower back, lower back, and more lower back," it makes sense that I will have to work hardest to make sure I am also bending my middle back and upper back. (Actually, it's true for everyone that the middle back is the hardest part of the equation, which is just due to anatomy. The thoracic spine has your ribcage on it, and all those other internal organs. Makes it pretty rigid.) But I can't believe that I shouldn't use my lower back at all! Bikram says it: "touch the floor." Emmy says it: "let the weight of your body pull you backwards, so you hang back like a wet rag." Emmy also says to use your natural gifts. Not to RELY on them, but to USE them. This makes sense.
I am totally indebted to my teachers who harped on me about my backbend, because they helped me understand where my backbend is NOW and where I need to take it in the future. And when I was at advanced seminar with all the super bendy yogis, I concentrated a lot on looking at the shapes of all the different spines, and that really helped me understand what is possible. So many nice, deep, SMOOTH backbends! The only debate is over how to GET there. And I'm going with dialogue.
The corrollary to this discussion is the question of "chest up." I dunno if you guys hear teachers saying this in class for the backbends. I hear it all the time. It's not dialogue. The thing is, that instruction DOES make sense for a very small minority of people, but it's not going to help everyone else, and I think that often it will mislead people into restricting their backbends, doing them incorrectly, and making their backs hurt in the process! Dialogue, however, works for everyone. Even the flexies, once they understand it correctly.
I can explain this better with camel, since this is how it was explained to me. The dialogue for camel basically says "hips forward, hips forward, hips forward!" Because for 99 out of 100 students, that is the correct instruction. Most people can't get their hips forward enough, so that's where the effort in the posture is. However: for the 1 student out of 100 who has a very flexible spine (hi Mei, that's us!), the hips CAN go too far forward, past perpendicular, and then there is nothing happening. So then the chest has to lift up in order to improve the backbend. But that's an individual correction for those few students. It can't go in the dialogue, because you can't really do "hips forward" and "chest up" at the same time in camel; it's one or the other. Half moon follows the same principle. (Though half moon IS always "hips forward.")
By the way, there are plenty of instances in the dialogue where the instruction is keyed to the vast majority of the students, but a more experienced or flexible minority will have to do a different or opposite action. Easy example: half moon! Dialogue says "upper body back," because most people's upper body will naturally be slumped too far forward. But it shouldn't go back so far that you loose the straight line of your body and compromise the pure side bend. So with experience, as a student, you learn that you don't actually bring your upper body further back every time you hear the words "upper body back." It's a checklist. You think to yourself: "Is my upper body back far enough? No? Move it back. Yes? Stay there, don't change." And there is always space for the individual correction: "Everybody hips forward more, upper body back more. J, little too far back, bring your upper body forward 2 inches." See how simple?
I ain't saying it's EASY for the teacher - you guys know that I have never taught a class in my life!!!!! - but that is my understanding of how the dialogue can and should be used. And it sure is helpful to understand some of these things as a student, when you practice to the dialogue! The dialogue is ALWAYS right. I really believe that. You just have to know how to listen to it, how to use it. Having doesn't mean ANYTHING if you don't know how to.... what? USE IT!! :)