Monthly Archives: July 2016

One drop-back and two steps forward

By | Asana, Teachings | No Comments

Ever wondered how some yoga practitioners manage to move into drop-backs with ease and grace? Or, indeed, how one could possibly delight in any kind of backbend? If you have, you’re not alone; backbends induce fear in lots of people – and Peacock Tree Yoga guest teacher, Katy Wright, was once amongst them. Now, she says she’d go as far as saying she loves all backbends – they put her on her true path, after all…

People often speak about the transformational power of yoga and, as a yoga teacher, I’m always quick to point out the benefits of the practice. But it wasn’t until I opened myself up to backbends that I truly understood how potent drop-backs and other chest-opening postures can be.

Now, I can say without hesitation that backbends offer us freedom from both physical and emotional constraints – which is a crucial part of realising our full potential. And when we realise our potential, we’re following our dharma – we’re in the flow of life and things feel easier, as though there’s an unseen force supporting us on our journey.

Opening up with backbends

drop-back prep

Finding ease in backbends helped me find ease in daily life…

On a physical level, our day-to-day lives are generally rather closed. We sit in our cars, at our desks, on our sofas – shoulders forward, back slumped, core and chest compressed. Backbends counteract those tendencies and habits by opening the front of the body, allowing us greater ease and comfort in our movements and in stillness.

Want more? See ‘A lesson in backbends

In terms of emotions, when we feel upset, fearful or vulnerable, we sometimes develop habits of thought and behaviour which we believe will help us avoid encountering further pain or loss; we ‘close’ our hearts. By expanding and opening our chests, backbends help us break down these emotional barriers and let the sun shine inside of us, too – as my own story illustrates…

What Katy Did

Until a few years ago, any attempt I made to drop back into Urdhva Dhanurasana resulted in a blinding headache, and this was often accompanied by tears and an overall sense of panic. Then one day in 2013, I decided it was time to alter my approach – not realising that this would trigger a whole sequence of events which would completely change my life.

So what did I alter exactly? My attitude, is the simple answer. I stopped expecting – or, more truthfully, forcing – my body to fulfill my desire to ‘complete’ this element of the Ashtanga finishing sequence. Dropping back was no longer my goal; the focus, from this point, was on being gentle with my body and understanding its limits.

Over time, I began to treat the rest of myself with more compassion, too. I stopped judging myself in the way I feared others were judging me, and I started to realise that my ‘needs’ weren’t just hollow desires or things I didn’t deserve. I came to understand that they were essential for my personal evolution and preservation.

Just as I adapted my practice, I made step-by-step adjustments to my life. It wasn’t always easy, but I didn’t stop – not because I knew that my perseverance was leading me to the full expression of the posture, but because I knew it was leading me to the full expression of myself. As my physical and emotional barriers came down, I could ‘hear’ my heart’s desire with greater and greater clarity.

What Katy Did Next…

Ironically (or perhaps not), I did end up being able to drop-back with the kind of ease and grace I’d once envied in others. I even found myself dropping back with a gloriously open heart on the rooftop of a guesthouse in Southern Cambodia, mid-way through another long journey around some far flung corner of the world, as the video below shows! I’d always known I was one of those people who needed travel, to experience life elsewhere – and there I was, doing just that.

This is not to say that mastering drop-backs or any other type of backbend will automatically revolutionise your life as it did mine – at least, not on the outside. But I’m willing to state that a gradual and more self-respecting backbend practice has great potential to change your interior world for the better, at the very least.

Want to develop your backbend practice in a safe and effective way? Read this follow-up blog, which contains instructional videos and photo sequences.

Katy Wright established her yoga practice at the age of 17, during an unusually warm British summer, which she spent outside, working her way through a manual she picked up in a cheap book shop.Fifteen years later, she undertook her teacher training with Union Yoga in Edinburgh, and began teaching as part of the Peacock Tree Yoga team, alongside her job as a journalist with the BBC. Now, as a freelance copywriter, Katy continues to explore the wisdom of yoga in her personal practice and in her blog, The Cat on the Mat.

Everybody loves the sunshine…

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Have you ever considered why it is that we wait with such eager anticipation for the Summer sun to arrive? Why you find yourself checking the long-range forecast, in the hope of finding evidence that Britain will actually be bathed in sunshine at some point?

everybody loves the sunshine

The fire element inspires play…

The sun feels nice, we can wear our lightest clothes (or nothing at all!), feel free and easy… We can eat outside, even if it’s late in the evening. The light has a magical quality. And when the threat of rain doesn’t loom, we’re more inclined to play – by ourselves, with our families and friends, and even strangers.

These are all good reasons for anticipating the arrival of summer, but there’s another reason, too; Summer, and the element of fire it brings, plays an important part in our spiritual wellbeing and evolution…

Everybody needs the sunshine…

“The Fire element expresses itself as joy and manifests within us as love, laughter, and enthusiasm. During summer, the season of maximum expansion, we can become aware of ourselves at our fullest.” – Neil Gumenick

According to Chinese medicine, Summer delivers the promises of Spring. It’s the time when the plans and intentions we set in Spring blossom fully, giving us the opportunity and power to present our truest and most impressive selves to the world. And because we are part of nature, this is a natural thing for us to do each year. So much so, that when we lack fire at this time of year, everything just feels wrong – or, as Neil Gumenick puts it in one of his articles on the Five Elements , “we can feel isolated and spiritually cut off, uninspired, fearful, empty, and disconnected from life”.

How to fire up your summer (with or without the sun!)

"During summer, we can become aware of ourselves at our fullest."

“During summer, we can become aware of ourselves at our fullest.”

If you do happen to encounter some sun at some point during the Summer, capitalise on it! Get outside, socialise, live your passions! Dance naked on the beach! Swim naked in the sea – even for 5 minutes, it takes a decade off you!  And tap into the self-sustaining power of the sun by taking your yoga practice outside, into nature, each time our biggest star extends even a finger of light from the sky.

And on those days (or during those weeks!) when the sun doesn’t seem to shine at all, when you don’t feel warmed to the core, and just generally seem to have lost your mojo?

Light your own fire!

Chinese Medicine suggests working on the heart meridian, to “re-establish our connection to the Divine and … awaken us to the security provided by the current of love that permeates existence.” What we’re being told, in a nutshell, is that focusing on the heart can help us to really feel universal love – great big flames of the stuff! We can find our own blistering Summer – right there inside us. And, happily for us yoga folk, our practice can aid us in doing so…

Firing up your yoga practice

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be working on the anahata, or heart chakra, in Peacock Tree Yoga’s classes – exploring backbends and other postures which assist us on our path to an open heart. You can begin at home simply by focusing on love and the unity of all things, as you move through your sun salutations. Even if the sun doesn’t light up the room as a result, the fire in your heart and soul most definitely will.

The video below was filmed during our recent holiday in Turkey. A deep backbend just seemed like the right thing to do in all that sun – and it felt lovely, even if I couldn’t see much with my cap covering my eyes!