My back has never been the most flexible. When I was a dancer I always thought I would never find space in my spine, and to have deep Backbends was just not a possibility for me. When I was still a dancer I started to experience some of the yoga path. But it still was a very superficial experience. It was only when I really started to immerse and commit to the yoga practice as a student, as a devoted practitioner, that I began to understand how much more space was possible to be created in my body, specially in my spine.
Over the years I have been studying, experiencing, practicing, reading, doing mistakes, learning, experiencing again, teaching, understanding, forgetting, remembering... It has been a patient and gradual learning process that has no end. But everything changed when I started to explore the intermediate series of Ashtanga Yoga. At the beginning with intermediate series, I had to do a lot of extra preparation to be able to at least attempt to go to Kapotasana without ending up with a back pain. Of course I was never able to get to the end unless I had more than two hours available for practice. I used to apply all the alignments I learned from my Iyengar teacher, Ushaji, combined with some muscle activation exercises to prepare all the main parts of my body implied in a backbend. Some of the main postures I used to integrate in my sequence after Laghuvajrasana before moving to Kapotasana were: Gomukasana Arms, Anjaneyasana and variations such as Bekasana with the back leg, Supta Virasana, Eka Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana and Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana preparations. I know, it is a lot of preparations, but it really made a difference in my practice.
I focused on applying actions to stretch the Psoas, abdominal and quadriceps muscles, such us pressing the top of the back foot to the floor and retroversing the pelvis while pulling the pelvic floor up, lifting the pubic bone towards the belly button and sucking the belly button back and up to enable the expansion of the chest and to give support to the lower back during the extension.
All these actions prepared my body not only stretching what had to be stretched but also awakening the awareness of different muscles that are not naturally active. It’s essential to move these muscles in the right direction during the practice of demanding backbending postures such as Kapotasana. At the beginning of this year I started to remove some preparations during my practice of intermediate series until a couple of months ago i started to practice without extra-preparations for Kapotasana.
For sometime my body felt very opened and it worked excellent without extra preparations until I had my flight back from Italy. When I was in Italy, the last day practicing with my Ashtanga teacher I went deeper than ever in my Backbends. Then I was flying during 3 days on a row without practicing and carrying a heavy backpack while moving in the airports. After these three days of not moving I arrived to Florida with some back pain and first thing I did in the morning was my practice. I went as deep as when I was in Italy, so I got super excited and did many repetitions of Kapotasana and Dropbacks. After I finished, my back was in pain, after so many years of not having pain, it was there again.
So I decided to embrace it and learn from it. I started to pay attention, to experience different preparations, different times for practicing, I started to more attention to my diet, the eating schedules, the amount of time sitting, etc. I started to understand on a deeper level how big of an impact the foods we eat have on our intestines wellbeing, and as a consequence in the space that can be created in the spine. Also, how easy the awareness of some deep muscles of the body can diminish in just three days of not moving.
My next step was to start exploring with different alignments, preparations and modifications I have learned in the past. And guess what? I came back to the preparation sequence I used to do some time ago before Kapotasana... and it works!!! It’s amazing how the refined awareness of the muscles starts to awake again and how much control of muscle isolation is gained from transforming an obstacle into an opportunity for learning.
I’m excited to share all of these experiences from a new level of awareness. Every obstacle can be a thorn on our side or an opportunity for growing and expanding.