Urdhva Dhanurasana (Backbends)

On any given day, the practice of backbends can elicit in me a wide range of emotions; placing desire, fear, clinging and aversion all right in front of me.
Flashes through my mind may hold expectations to perform the pose in a particular way based on an idea of what the pose ‘should be’ (which shifts), or a desire to achieve some perceived ideal or a memory of what I may have experienced in the past.
There were times in my practice where my reaction to the thought of going into Urdhva Dhanurasana had me heading straight to the cupboard for a piece of chocolate. Upon examination, I realized that my fear of the intensity of sensation was enough to trigger such comfort-seeking avoidance tactics.
And so Urdhva Dhanurasana, and some of the deeper backbends require me to put all of that aside, and consider that I don’t need to ‘do anything’ in the pose but go and see … simply to place my hands and feet and feel … feel their contact with the mat, establish a sense of grounded-ness through those four points and move into the shape, and into the experience.
The exhilaration (sometimes) of opening, of sensation and feeling intensely facilitates a coming into myself. But, the same sensation that elicited the fear can also bring out the desire and at times take on an addictive quality.
I evaluate the pressures within hands and feet, the rotation of one foot/leg compared to the other (trying not to judge ‘that one’ that rarely cooperates, but instead examine its relationship to the side in the trunk that seems to drop), the lift through arms, shoulders and hips, contact of shoulder blades to back, spread of the sacrum -- which parts are dull, which muscles of the back engage or broaden, what is the quality of the front body.
Overwork brings on tension and hardness – can I soften within the actions to search out and sustain an evenness of stretch and opening, evenness and penetration of the breath, relaxing in the face and senses – keeping my mind focused yet calm, unperturbed?
Then, maybe, however infrequently and however fleetingly, I exist there without seeking more or pulling away and touch the once-feared space; experience it as freedom – a momentary glimpse that something else is possible.
And then, come down. I can settle into myself, watch the resistance not only to backbending, but also to my daily struggles, melt away with a renewed sense that I can face whatever the day will bring, with wonder and even contentment and joy.
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