You learn things when you start practicing yoga, about yourself, that you might never have known otherwise, like that you have a super flexi back, or that your hips are really open, or that you have good balance, or that you have the tightest hamstrings around...things which just, you know, don't tend to come up in the course of your life otherwise. (Unless you've given birth. Or you're just...naughty.)
You also learn things like, "gee, I'm so disconnected from that part of my body that I can't even FEEL it. Even when I try really hard--gee, that's funny. It feels like that part of my body is made of flesh-rock."
(I don't know what "flesh-rock" is, but I am definitely in favor of someone starting a flesh-rock band. Please sing songs about yoga.)
Anyhoo, that is how I have felt (up until very recently) about my back-body.
In Anusara Yoga (the style I'm currently practicing) they talk a lot about the back-body. They say things like, "puff up your kidneys," or "move your waistline back," or "move from behind the heart"...people, seriously...the first time I heard "puff up your kidneys" I was like, wait...WHAT? My kidneys? A. I don't even know where my kidneys ARE and B. I don't really see, even if I did know where they were, how on earth I would ever "puff them up".
And so for a long time I just let these particular instructions go, as I was busy focusing on other things (like how to "move my thigh-bone back" and "inner-spiral my upper-legs"), and that's how the practice works, anyhow...you focus on the thing that holds the most juice for you at the moment, you work it into the whole of your practice, and as SOON as you've mastered it (and teachers seem to have a radar for this...) there is some brand new thing to work on.
That happened to me yesterday, actually...I was in class feeling like, "aw yeah, I've got this back-body think MASTAH-ed", and then, out of the blue, my teacher was like laser-focused on my shins.
Ugh...that will be a post in a few weeks, I'm sure...
Anyhoo...I have had this series of breakthroughs regarding the back-body over the last several months...my kidneys and I have been getting to know each other and are now on quite good terms. As are the backs of my ribs and heart...we've been partying. And I have discovered that the back-body is like this magical land of loveliness. Who knew?
Now, a tiny bit of yoga-osophy...the back-body, at least according to the lore I've heard from my teachers, is considered the seat of the Universal Self. This is in opposition to the Individual Self which is housed, you guessed it, in the FRONT of the body. This makes sense right? Think about leading with your chin, or sticking your chest out or jutting your pelvis forward...all very self-oriented gestures, all signs of a person who is seeking out the personal, whereas the BACK body...well, shoot, what's back there? I mean, seriously, WHAT is BACK there?! It's unknown, it's mysterious, it's unseen...and if you think about engaging BACKWARD there is an immediate association with falling, with sinking in, with...letting go.
So for me, I am a very front-oriented person. I'm ambitious, I've got a lot of striving and yearning in my make-up, and I have had to teach myself, over the past 4 years of practice, to not stick out my ribs and chest and chin. This is also something I've had to work on as an actress. My boyfriend and favorite audition coach can always tell when I'm uncertain of what I'm doing because I start "chin acting" (Jutting my chin forward and up, and thereby totally disconnecting my HEAD from the rest of my body.) And while those parts of me are often wonderful and lively and productive, there is a kind of disconnect that happens between what is going on in front of me, and what is going on behind.
Long story short (or medium-length at least), when I engage with my back-body, I have to REEEEEEEEEEEElaaaaaax.
Try it, right now, while you're reading this...just send your attention for a minute to your back body, and send even a single breath into the backs of your shoulders, the back of your neck, the back of your waist. Do it gently, with softness, just sort of filling up the balloon of the back. Notice a difference? Feel yourself having a bit of sigh and sinking into your seat and your self a little more? It's good back there! It's juicy!
Not to mention, how a repeated disregard for the back body can lead to a host of problems...as it's so much easier to slam bam crunch the back when you never spend any time there. It becomes just the invisible whipping-boy for the front-body instead of having it's own life and expression.
And my newly found connection to this back-body-wonderland has had a huge impact on my practice...it allows me to sink in more deeply to the poses as their happening, and each time I check in with my back-body it serves as a reminder to sit back, to slow down, to ease off...not because the other stuff is WRONG, not because it's wrong to strive or yearn or want or long for, but because those qualities have to be tempered with the other--the qualities of stillness and patience and trust. Because that's what's back there (at least for me) is the part of me which can settle in, which trusts that I'm held from behind, and that I do not have to work so hard absolutely all of the time.
It brings new meaning to the phrase "I got your back."
I do, Shanti-towners, I got your back. I also got my own.