fun with props! backbending over a folding chair for extended stays without panic

I got a little frustrated earlier in the year with the lack of any apparent change in the comfort of my backbend.  As I’ve said before, backbends freak me out.  It’s kind of absurd, it’s just a body position.  But I get scared and panicked and emotional, both when trying to hang back and when doing a full Urdhva Dhanurasana.  Actually, I understand this is fairly common.  I have to psyche myself up for it.  “I can do it!” I say to the yurt.  And Sophie calls back, “Go Mom!”

Needless to say, I can’t stay in UD for very long.  Which I figure is probably a big part of why they aren’t getting any better.  Master backbenders like Heather Morton (see freak out post above) say long stays are the key to backbending.  To me that’s like saying, just hold your hand in the fire longer!  Which is probably why I was not able to keep up the use of her video for long.  Yeah, right, I’ll just hang around in my agonizing fear for fun, every day. I tried, but I started to dread my practice, which meant I started skipping.  A lot.  So I gave it up.  I’m just not the kind of girl who can go all hard core and suffer for the greater good.  Spell it with me: i-am-a-p-a-n-s-y-a-s-s.

So, here we are, two years later, and I’m still struggling with backbends.  I was thinking about that “long stays” business, though, which led me to try to think up ways to accomplish such with less panic and more comfort.  Which led me to thinking of props.  This prop, to be specific.

It’s a folding chair (available here) that a smart person made that detachable arch thingy for, to make doing Iyengar-style supported backbends on a folding chair more comfy.  I got this chair maybe fifteen years ago when I was doing some Iyengar yoga back in my twenties and it has been in storage for the last decade in our mold pit covered garage, ever since we moved into the yurt.  But I dug it out and cleaned the mold off and have been using it lately in the evening for ten minute backbends.

That’s right, ten minute backbends.

Basically the attached arch keeps my giant, heavy head from hanging loose, sort of supports it from behind a bit, which radically diminishes my panic.  Huzzah!  Here I am on the chair.

Easy, even pleasurable.  Perhaps the panic comes from my neck being too far back or something, and the arch-thingy is helping it not do that?  Because look, below I am doing the same thing on the chair without the arch-thingy attached…

…and it is almost exactly the same backbend but I could only stand it for a few breaths.  Panic came on almost immediately.

Maybe if/when my upper back opens a bit more, I’ll have more bend in the thoracic and thus less extension in the neck?  So that my head would hang up and down more, instead of hyper-extending back?  Just a guess.  Perhaps even this slight increase in extension reduces (or threatens to reduce?) my airflow in some way, making me panic?  Like waterboarding for yogis?  I don’t know.  I just know that without the support, I panic.  With it, I’m fine.

So yeah, I can do ten minutes a night (most nights, sometimes I forget) on this chair.  I have been for the last two months give or take.  No panic.  And it has definitely gotten more  comfortable as I had to inch my way off the chair and into emergency paschimottanasana at first (muscle spasms), while now I pretty much just sit up and feel fine (I still do paschi though because it feels awesome.)

Any improvement in UD?  Let’s see.

Here I am three-ish months ago….

And here I am this morning.

Hmm.  Not so much different visually.  But this morning I stayed up long enough to talk to Sophie (who was taking the picture) while she fiddled with the camera, vs. the pic three months ago she had to grab the shot the instant I got up there.  So I guess I’m staying up longer with more comfort (although I would not say it is comfortable, yet, not at all).  In addition, I can push in my legs a bit now, getting my head more between my hands rather than behind them—while before there was simply no room for any give, any pushing.  The position itself was already at my body’s maximum.  So that’s something!

The limit of the chair, of course, is that if you want a greater arch, you can’t have it.  I’ve been wishing I could crank it down a notch for a bit more arch.  It would be cool if there were a couple of attachments with greater/lesser levels of arch.

Still, I want to try the chair for another three months and see where it goes.  I want to get my head between my hands and my legs a bit straighter—that push I was talking about.  Before the chair, I would have thought this was impossible, as nothing had changed in a year.  Now, with the chair, I’m thinking maybe.

8 thoughts on “fun with props! backbending over a folding chair for extended stays without panic

  1. Shannon

    Shhh! Do not tell my Dad about using something after a decade and it is still useful. We will never get him to clean out the mold pits, I mean the barn and pole barn as it is. 😀

    I personally think it is great that you have found a use for it once again. My personal attack was the one we called the dove. (don’t know the language you use) I think my reason was I might cause myself damage or get stuck in the pose.

    Your panic attack with the air cut off thing. It actually makes sense.

    And no, you are not a-p-a-n-s-y-a-s-s. 🙂

    1. maya Post author

      Haha, I know that game. Don’t tell Paul either or I’ll be hearing about it for the next twenty years. And oh yes I am. PANSYASS. No shame!

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    1. maya Post author

      There is a link right in the post for the place I got the chair from. I’ll post the link again here. It’s a great yoga prop. I still use it.

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  4. Olga

    I stumbled upon your yoga posts when I was searching a combination of “Ashtanga progress” and “Ashtanga frustration” search words 🙂
    I am really enjoying reading about your yoga practice, it is so great to read from a simple home practitioner who is not a teacher, or an ex-gymnast or dancer either, who is dealing with the challenges of physical limitations in asana practice.
    I am 32 and have been practicing Ashtanga for about 1.5 years, I have a teacher whom i see once a week, but otherwise i practice at home. I have very similar issues to what you describe, especially with back bends! I started having chronic lower back pain, despite best efforts to do the poses correctly and focusing on bending the upper spine instead of the lower… but that’s very hard to do when your upper spine just does not bend at all, and your chest and shoulders are super tight, which i discovered is the case with me. I laughed out loud when i read in another post that in the beginning laying flat on your stomach on the floor felt like a back bend :)))
    Anyway, i just wanted to leave a comment, and let you know that i enjoyed reading about your yoga, I know these are all older posts, I hope your practice nowadays keeps improving and getting more comfortable, i would love to read more about your journey.

    1. maya Post author

      Hello Olga,
      Nice to meet you! I’ve been at this for six years now and if I’ve learned anything it’s don’t push the backbends, nothing ever good comes of pain. Spoken from experience! Chronic pain says you are pushing way too hard I think. Stick with baby cobras and bridge and don’t try for more. More comes on its own, by surprise, UNLESS you get injured and then more never comes. I hope your practice goes well! Be gentle with yourself, you only have one back…


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