We’ve already talked about forward bends, and how they take us into our past, teaching us to resolve old issues by letting go of negative emotions that become trapped in the hamstrings, the hips, and the back.
Now let’s talk about how back-bends affect our ability to go into the future without fear and with a wide open front body i.e heart.
How many people do you see walking around NYC with an open chest, looking happy and confident? Not many. Most of us walk hunched down, lost in our heads, carrying our bags, as we continue to lock and close ourselves down.
As we mechanically and unconsciously contract our front body day after day, the psoas muscle also hardens, and then movements like back-bending which require us to open the front body, all of a sudden become very challenging and breathing becomes difficult.
Our psoas muscle, which contracts when we are afraid or in danger, is the primary connector between the torso and the legs, and also connects the back body and the front body; it’s a key muscle for walking and overall posture. It also protects organs in the pelvic area and has the fight or flight reflex which makes it contract when we are in danger in order to protect those organs. If this muscle is constantly retracting out of habit because we live in a fearful state of un-openness to life, it becomes really tight.
A tight psoas from habitual muscle-holding patterns, can cause serious postural problems, often resulting in low back pain and stiffness.
Anatomically, back-bending poses help strengthen and LENGTHEN the psoas, so you can release this muscle of habit and improve your lower back alignment. Most importantly, back bending allows us to open up the front body and takes us back into a direction we can’t see; we go back into the unknown with an open chest. Backbends help us practice our ability to face the unknown (the future) fearlessly and openly.
Nevertheless, we all have this VERY strong tendency when we go into backbends to get scared of the backward movement and as a result we RETRACT the pelvis, and in doing that we collapse and hold back, tightening the psoas muscle.
The reason why many people feel that they can’t breathe when they go into camel pose, bridge, or wheel is because the psoas is connected to the diaphragm, which is the dome shaped muscle responsible for breathing. One of the ligaments of the diaphragm actually wraps around the psoas muscle, so when we lean back, and get afraid the psoas muscle gets tight and makes breathing difficult.
This is why it is very important to go into backbends on a deep breath on the INHALE, and to lead the movement with the pelvis in order to prevent the psoas muscle from contracting.
Because of habit and unconscious patterns, we are used to retracting the pelvis back when we get scared, but we have to train the body to be fearless and lead our way with an open heart and pelvis, trusting that life holds no danger for us.
The outer form INFORMS the inner form. That is, if you start to put your body in certain postures that create openness and fearlessness, then the mind will follow.
If you can get used to bending back, like you probably did when you were a child and were afraid of NOTHING, then you can slowly start to become used to going into the unknown fearlessly and ready for whatever may happen.