There is a lovely saying, which I often find myself using: “We are as young as our spines are flexible.”
This is so true – you see it in those who have practised yoga their whole lives and seem to defy age (this is what I’m holding out for!). Really, much of their ‘youthfulness’ is their upright posture, their continued fluidity of motion and bounciness that comes with freedom of movement in the spinal column.
So, yes, keeping the spine mobile is really important to help keep our bodies feeling free and youthful. Of course, this involves all kind of movements – sideways bending, twisting, forward folding, back-bending. However, of these, surely the biggie that we focus most on, is back-bending. For some of us, this is easy; we are born with naturally flexible spines. But for many of us, back-bending can be one of our most dreaded aspects of yoga. It can feel scary, it can feel tough and, frankly, it can feel emotional. We’ve probably all heard stories of people who have an emotional release following deep back-bending; I’ve been there myself recently.
Why is this? I think a lot of it is to do with feeling vulnerable when we fully open our hearts. Back-bending is also front-opening, as is explored in the Anatomy Focus article in this newsletter. Looking at a person’s posture can tell you a lot about how they’re feeling. When we’re scared, unhappy or defensive we hunch forward, literally trying to make ourselves smaller, more invisible. Conversely, when we’re happy, in love, full of beans, we’re bouncing around, heart open, smiling out at the world. Back-bending removes this defence mechanism – we have no choice but to puff our chests out, exposing ourselves to the world, surrendering. And this takes trust. We are but mammals and, like other animals, we have an instinctive desire to protect our most vulnerable parts such as our hearts. So to open up our chest and therefore our heart, we need to take a leap of faith and trust: trust ourselves, trust our teacher, trust in yoga. And that can be tough, especially when we’re going through bad times and our trust has been challenged.
But it’s also what makes back-bending so rewarding, both physically, as we feel our bodies opening up, but also emotionally, as we trust, surrender, and feel the liberation that comes with that. No wonder there are such huge releases of emotion when we finally let go.