Iyengar on Backward Extensions:

“Backbends are are like a third eye.”

Backbends are not taught at the early stages in the practice of the this art, but only when the body is trained, tuned and toned to such an extent that it accepts these poses.

Backbends are to be felt more than expressed. The other postures can be expressed and then felt. Like in meditation each person has to feel backbends. Backbends are not poses meant for expressionism. Backbends are meant to understand the back parts of our bodies. The front body can be seen with the eyes, but the back body can only be felt. That’s why I say these are the most advanced postures, where the mind begins to look at the back. Otherwise it is felt on the peripheral level.

For a yogi, the backbending āsanas are meant to invert the mind, to look in and back, to feel the actual back portion of the body. It is my feeling that one who knows, and looks into the back can look into God. Without the accurate spine movement, one can’t exist dynamically. Backbends demand a certain standard both in the body and the mind. Backbends are like a third eye. The third eye means strength and power within to face the unseen light when it falls on you or me.

Inversions work on certain parts of the body; standing poses work on certain parts of the body, and so the twists and balances. But the understanding of penetration of the mind on the spinal nerves and spinal muscles are not touched by the above poses except in backbends.

Practitioners should try these only after they’ve mastered the standing poses, twists and inversions. The question of balancings are unimportant for backbends, but the others have to come. They are the base for backbends.

Tadāsana is the base for standing poses. Jānu śīrṣāsana is the base for forward bends. In inverted poses, Sālamba sarvāṅgāsana I is the base. In balancings, Bakāsana is the base. In backbends, Ūrdhva dhanurāsana is the base. One creates tremendous depth and vastness in the chest through the backbends that the emotional centre accommodates [absorbs and withstands] all types of pressures and strains. There is no chance for a person who does backbends to get emotionally depressed or distressed.

The beauty of backbends is that the person remains intellectually stable – not strong. Backbends give stability to the body and bring maturity in the intelligence in order to develop ripeness in the brain and ripeness in the emotions. When one does a lot of backbends, the blood is circulated with such speed and force that one feels hot in the body. As that body becomes warmer than normal, soothing or cooling poses have to be taught afterwards. Soothing and cooling poses like Adhomukha śvānāsana, Adhomukha vīrāsana, bending downwards, and lateral Uttānāsana, bring the body temperature back to normal.  This is the natural ‘pill’ in yoga, to come back to a natural state.

I also say with backbends, you have to be cautiously bold. Not carelessly bold. You have to descend to the dictation of the spine. You cannot command from the brain to do the poses. As you play with a child, guarding the child from injuries, similarly you have to play in backbends, guarding your spine. Keep the mind, the intelligence and will power in such a state that they may not trespass and disturb the body. When one does backbends, one has to think and rethink. One has to start from the beginning.

Healthy adjustments are very essential and important: Positioning of the cells, positioning of the spinal vertebrae, positioning of the joints, how to squeeze, how to stretch, are all to be digested. In other poses the sternum is touched from the outside, while in backbends one touches from inside. This helps us to educate the mind both ways. In Śīrṣāsana, or forward bends or balancings, the mind acts as extrovert. In backbendings, mind goes within. With both, one hits the inner mind within and without using the body as a means.

In forward bends, one uses the outer mind while in backbends the outer mind is silenced and the inner mind is made to work. In backbends, one touches the body physically, mentally, intellectually, consciously and spiritually everywhere. That’s the beauty of backbends. Emotionally we can never be disturbed, for the emotional centre becomes an extrovert. When you do Viparīta dandāsana, your head looks backwards, but your conscious mind stretches everywhere. Study by observing how the mind gets regulated. You not only know the freedom in the spine, but also the freedom in the spirit.  B.K.S. Iyengar

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