Bend it like Beckham!

I can still vividly remember how I felt when I first tried backbends when I was in Secondary School. My heart was literally doing a bungee jump. The fear of falling backwards made me hesitate and I even fell on my back a couple of times on the mat, injuring my wrists. As I had to master the wheel pose pose for an upcoming performance then, I decided to use the gym ladders at the hall for my practice.

Every day during recess, I would use the gym ladders to help stretch my spine. I would raise my hands over my head, bend my upper back and descend my grip on the ladder one step at a time. When I was finally able to do a backbend by myself, the sense of achievement was overwhelming and I felt this unexplained sense of joy when I was bending backwards. I started to enjoy the feeling of staying upside down and looking at things in a different dimension. When I feel stress during exams or when I feel upset, I will go for long jogs and end off my post stretching with backbends for a minute or two and I just feel so much better after that. Learning about the chakras helped me to understand this magical healing that backbends does to your emotional health. Backbends stretches your heart and activates your Anahata chakra, releasing your pent-up frustrations, worries and anger which you have swept under the rug. This is probably why I find so much comfort in doing backbends.

Hoarding negative emotions within us will drag us down emotionally and physically. It will affect your posture (the way you portray yourself to others) and unconsciously, mould your behaviour and interaction with others. Clear your heart from all these unwanted sediments by doing backbends. Here are some simple stretching that I do to help enhance the flexibility of my spine and some poses to build your arm strength and back muscles to help you achieve urdhva dhanurasana:

Simple Stretches

Gym Ladder stretch

  • Find a gym ladder if not, a wall! Take four steps away from the ladder with back facing it. Raise your hands over your head and as you exhale, bend from your upper back (important to push your chest and sternum forward so that you do not lean). Hold on to the first bar of the ladder (your elbows should be pointing forward and your palms facing upwards while gripping the bar)
  • Slowly climb your hands down the bar one by one. Each time, push yourself slightly away from the bar, without holding on to it. This is a good stretch for your abs (rectus abdominis). Try not to move your feet forward as you may fall on your back if your arms are stretched and too far away from the bar.

 

  • Try this until you can touch the last bar and rest your palms on the floor

 

Surrender Stretch

  • Find a gym ladder! Lie on your belly and stretch both your hands upwards and hold on to the highest bar that you can. Ensure that your pelvis is on the ground and not lifted like upward dog. Put your feet together and ask your friend to hold on to the sides of your ankle and gently push you towards the ladder and try to get your chest as close to the ladder as possible. (like you are surrendering with raised arms..). I find this an extremely good stretch for the shoulders and spine.

Yoga Poses

Massage and warm-up for the spine

  • I would recommend cat and cow pose, dancing cat and threading the needle.

To build strength in your arms and shoulders

  • Dolphin pose helps to strengthen your arms and fires up your core too!
  • If not, you always op for a simpler option like downward facing dog (adho mukha svanasana)
  • I personally like to do vasisthasana (helps to tone your back muscles which is essential for backbends) and transit into the wild thing (Camatkarasana) to open up the chest.
  • Other poses to help open the chest include Parivrtta Janu Sirsana

Poses to stretch and strengthen your quad and increase flexibility of your spine (my favourite series)

  • Low lunge with quad stretch
  • Camel pose (Ustrasana) is a great pose to stretch your thighs before you go into wheel pose. This also gives you the leverage to push your chest forward while resting your hands on your heels.
  • Bow pose (Dhanurasana). I started this pose with one leg using my towel to help bring my feet closer to my body. This pose stretches your sternum, strengthen your latissimus dorsi and your quads.
  • Bridge Pose (Setu Bhandasana). I personally like to put a block in between my knees as my knees tend to collapse outwards. This will strengthen your adductor muscles when you do wheel.
  • Engage your glutes, stretch your thighs and straighten your arms and you are in Urdhva Dhanurasana!

 

Like the movie, “Bend it like Beckham”, start bending, learn to bend the rules if things do not work for you. Do not be too uptight or fixated on certain challenges and issues in your life (applies when you do poses too) and life will be much happier! A happier heart will make a happier you!

Junni (Apr to Jun TTC 200 hrs)

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