We often know the least about what we cannot see. This certainly applies to the physical body, whether in yoga or in daily life. We watch our chest, abdomen, arms and legs, keeping an eye on them; we learn how they work, whether we are sitting, walking or practicing triangle pose. We have much less awareness about what the back of our body is up to. Fortunately, through yoga, we have the means to explore and awaken our backs, sensing and viewing them from the inside.
Fine Tuned Perception
We are not used to thinking about our backs except when they are bothering us. As yogis, we should also start thinking about our backs when they are feeling good. We learn, through the practice of yoga poses, to become aware of subtle actions in the body, small internal movements that can have a big impact on how we feel.
Stand in tadasana, mountain pose, and move your perception to your back body. You cannot see it, but you can feel it. Is your back body dull, tight and contacting, or is it alert, light and expanding? Use your breath to spread awareness throughout your back, and see what you can discover. You may not get very far, but try this every time you do tadasana for a week, and see what happens.
Fear of the Unknown
As humans, many of us have a natural fear of the unknown. This sometimes comes to light during yoga class when it is time for backbends or inversions. Your mind may be reluctant, telling the body it is not safe to venture into that unexplored territory. Testing the waters, trying a simple backbend, for example, is a way to discover these fears are not valid.
Camel pose and locust pose are a couple of backbends that can be safely practiced with the goal of tuning into sensations on the back body. Strive to create length in these poses, from the back of your head all the way to the back of the heels in locust or to the back of the knees in camel. Feel where you back body moves and where it is dull or stuck in place. Can you “see” the back from inside?
A New Awareness
As you get used to some of these basic backbends, you become more comfortable with them and more aware of how your back can support you. Learning how the back body moves and feels, you are ready for more challenging backbending poses. Even if it involves going upside down and backwards, you are more prepared to face the unknown. And, once you are off the yoga mat, you can bring that new confidence and awareness to your daily life.