Backbends Archives - Peacock Tree Yoga

Guest blog: Gratitude Crumble

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Some people eat humble pie. Katy Wright recommends Gratitude Crumble…

I’ve developed a new morning ritual and I can’t recommend it highly enough. But you do need to live near some brambles, which – luckily for me – I do. In fact, where I live in France, it’s pretty rural, and I have immediate access to all the delights Mother Earth is currently serving up. But even if there’s more concrete than grass where you live, you can still go out on weekend ‘shopping’ trips.

Katy looking at blackberries

Behold the plump berries!

So, my ‘harvest bowl’. Every day it gets filled with blackberries, apples, hazelnuts and, soon, walnuts!! And the act of filling it has become my daily reminder to be grateful. Grateful for the abundance of food growing just metres away from the kitchen in which it will be prepared, and grateful for the abundance in my own life.

But having a lot of fresh produce is a bit like having a lot of money – it comes with responsibility. You can’t just pick blackberries willy nilly and let them go soggy in the fridge. Or watch your apples develop that weird, waxy skin texture that signals impending decay. (The nuts, granted, do have to be left to their own devices – and when they’re ready, I have to practise moderation in the face of delirious greed!).

I’ve found the best way to be responsible with, and respectful towards, my harvest is to make sure it gets eaten and appreciated – by me and anyone else I encounter. And I do that by making the delicious things listed below. There’s something for everyone – unless you’re both vegan and gluten intolerant, in which case, I suggest eating your fruits, berries and nuts in all their unadulterated glory!

Happy foraging!

Katy x


How to eat your Autumn harvest


Pancakes and blackberriesFlourless Banana Pancakes

These are quick and easy to make, tasty, filling, good for using up ageing bananas, and good for sharing. And they can be made better still by putting blackberries and cinnamon on top! They’re also classed as ‘Paleo‘, so if you eat like a caveman, you’ll like these!


apple tree for gratitude blogGratitude Crumble

That’s just my playful name for what is actually a recipe by Paul Hollywood. The only things I do differently are leaving out the seaweed (that’s not a joke – he really does use the stuff in his crumble!) and using salted butter. Oh, and I like it served with crème fraiche. Naturellement.

peach and blackberry bircherAutumn Porridge / Bircher 

No-one can claim to have invented porridge, apart from the oats themselves. And yes, Bircher was invented by a Swiss doctor, but it is basically just a cold version of porridge. So I’m going to lay claim to these variations. You can invent your own versions, too. The ‘Bircher’ on the left contains peach.


  • Porridge: Make as usual and then stir in a teaspoon of turmeric, if you’re daring. Put it in a bowl, and add half an apple (chopped into small pieces) and a handful of blackberries. Top it off with some chopped nuts. You can also add cinnamon or, even better, cinnamon pumpkin seeds (for 3 or 4 servings, fry 40g of seeds in ½ tspn of coconut oil along with as much cinnamon as you desire)
  • Bircher: Soak the oats overnight, in half the amount of water/milk you would use if you were cooking it in a pan – so, roughly 1:1. In the morning, stir in some plain yoghurt (it’s up to you how much – depends on your feelings about gloopiness), grate an apple on top, add your blackberries, and top with nuts and pumpkin seeds, either plain or made as described above.

Guest blog: A lesson in backbends

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Before going any further, I just want to say a heartfelt thank you to everyone who showed up for the backbending classes I taught during the last week of July – it was an absolute delight to be amongst you and absorb some of that unique Peacock Tree Yoga kula spirit! I’m also very grateful for your lovely feedback and am more than happy to share some of the techniques we explored in class, as requested by several students…

Snazzy videos and photos coming up – but please read the following first!!

This might seem like an obvious thing to say, but I cannot stress enough how important it is to listen to your body – and, even more importantly, to respond to what it says. I would never have got so far with my backbends if I hadn’t decided to go easy on myself, and I daresay it’ll be the same for you. It’s also important to understand the reasons why backbends can hurt or instill a sense of panic, in order to appreciate the techniques I recommend for practising safely and effectively. So…

Why do backbends hurt?

  • It’s not usual for us to purposely open the front of the body! We spend most of our days ‘rounding’ our backs and closing our chests, which means neither our bodies or our minds know how to do proper backbends, often resulting in pain – usually a ‘pinching’ sensation in the lower back or neck.
  • The pain is generally caused by compression of the vertebrae – or, to be more specific, the spinous processes (the knobbly bits on your back) – squeezing against each other. When the back of the neck is compressed, the pain is often accompanied by a sense of panic because the body’s stress response has been activated.
  • Compression in the spine during backbends usually happens because of tightness in the front of the body (even sitting at a desk all day will contribute to this kind of thing), which limits our full range of movement. As a result, we end up over-using the parts of the spine that naturally bend backward – the neck and lower back.
  • To counter this tendency, we need to work on undoing the tightness in the front of the body. That way, we’re able to spread the backbend across the entire spine – and literally take the pressure off the lower back and neck!

A short safety announcement!

Throughout the sequence below, please keep the following points in mind:

  1. Maintain length (and avoid compression) in your lower back by lifting your hip bones up
  2. Lift your rib cage and chest ‘out’ of your pelvis
  3. Keep your neck in a neutral-to-flexed position until you have maximised the extension of your mid-upper back (see 2)
  4. Roll your shoulders back (unless you’re in a posture where your arms are overhead, such as full wheel)
  5. Take your head back last, and only go as far as your breath will let you – if you’re not breathing easily, you’re in danger of injuring your neck
  6. If something doesn’t feel right, STOP!

Backbending sequence

Sun salutations

Surya Namaskara A: Repeat 3 – 5 times, using the variation shown in the video below (instead of lifting the arms and folding forward straight away, there’s a small chest-opening movement to do, which becomes slightly more pronounced with each salutation – as the two repetitions in the film below demonstrate).

Surya Namaskara B: Repeat the standard form of Surya Namaskara B (if you need a reminder, have a look at Ashtanga teacher Rob Leadley’s cheat sheet) 2 – 3 times, and then follow the video below, for a variation on the sequence which helps to release tightness in the front of the body (the hip flexors, abdominal muscles, ribs, chest and shoulders). If it’s difficult to balance or to maintain an neutral pelvis in the lunge-based postures, you can always drop your back knee. Respect your limits.

Standing postures (hip openers)

It might not seem obvious to prepare for backbends by working into the hips, but it’s definitely worth spending some time on these sorts of postures because they give the hip flexors and groin muscles a good stretch – meaning greater extension across the front of the hips and less compression in the lower back during backbends! You can work through the following postures one by one or, if you know how, you can turn the sequence into a vinyasa flow, which will help keep your body and muscles warm, ready for some backbends.

Please click on the photos below and then scroll down to see the further instructions.

And NOW for some backbends!

Remember, stop when your body tells you to stop! You don’t have to do ALL of these postures or complete the suggested number of repetitions, where a number is stated. You can rest between postures too – but avoid bringing your knees directly into your chest (a deep, and in this case unwelcome, counter-stretch to a backbend); instead, take child’s pose with wide knees, or, if you need to lie down, try happy baby pose.

Please click on the photos below and then scroll down to see the further instructions.

Preparing for ‘drop-backs’*

*If you’re able to hold Urdhva Dhanurasana (full wheel) without splaying your knees and compressing your lower back, and your breath moves freely from your nose to your lungs, you might want to begin preparing your body for drop-backs. Otherwise, skip this part of the sequence and move onto the finishing postures.

Finishing postures

After an intense and sustained backbend practice, it’s essential to take some long, passive twists before folding forward again. Start by simply resting on your back with your legs propped up – knees together and feet apart – then move into a supine twist (arms in a ‘T’ shape, knees to one side, and your gaze on the opposite hand). Hold the twist for at least a minute on each side, making small adjustments as your spinal muscles begin to relax. Afterwards, you can either hug your knees to your chest or roll up to sitting for a loose forward fold (knees bent). After that, it’s time to lie down for a well-deserve 5 or 10 minutes in savasana – possibly with a bolster or cushion beneath your knees.


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.

One drop-back and two steps forward

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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.