By guest author Oli Wiles, Free to Move
Find sthira sukham at your desk and on the mat
A friend recently posted a pic on Facebook of his 3-month-old boy sitting propped up on a sofa. The caption read:
“Propped up at 3 months, eventually he toppled.”
It got me thinking about sitting and back-bending …
Now, as you sit at your desk, it is likely that the muscles of your back are stopping you from toppling into the keyboard.
In playing this important role, however, parts of your back can easily overwork, whether you are slumping forward or sitting tall with your chest high.
How can you find a happy medium?
How does all this apply to your back-bending in yoga?
Watch the videos below to discover a way of finding an easy sitting posture.
You’ll learn to use your back more effectively through a modified cat-camel, based on principles of the Feldenkrais Method.
Read on to find out about a back-bending workshop I’ll be running in late October, which extends these ideas even further.
But first, let’s look at how you learned to back-bend as a baby. Understanding this learning process may help you develop a different approach to back-bending in your yoga.
A developmental look at back-bending
It takes a while for us to learn to sit upright as babies. We do so by spontaneously and playfully bending our backs.
You started life curled up in a ball, floating inside the womb, relatively unaffected by gravity. When you were born, your ability to extend your spine into a back-bend was limited. In your neutral position, your back was curved with your legs flexed in front of you. The muscles in front were powerful and dominant.
Through time on the floor as a baby, you slowly learned to activate your back and to extend your spine and hips.
You did this by playing, by lifting your head on your belly, by rolling from your back to your tummy and back onto your back, by lifting your hips while lying on your back, by crawling and sitting and eventually standing.
Through play and curiosity, you developed the back muscles that now keep you upright.
When supported by your skeleton, they do an excellent job of this. When working properly, they can do it all day with ease.
Searching for ease in sitting
Now, sitting at your desk, your legs are flexed in front of your hips like they were as an infant. If you were to fall asleep while sitting, or if you were simply to slouch, your spine would take a shape resembling the singular curve you had as a newborn. ‘Hanging off your back’ like this can overwork your back muscles, or worse still, overstretch the ligaments that keep your spine stable.
But simply resisting the urge to slump may cause more problems than it solves. Sitting tall through effort or willpower may cause your back muscles, particularly your neck and lower back, to overwork.
Forcing ‘good’ posture more often than not reinforces patterns of tension, whether at your desk or on the mat.
Video: Exploring cat-camel in sitting
We can learn a lot from the process you used as a baby.
Have a look at the 3 videos below. Move slowly and gently as you follow the instructions. Be like a baby absorbed in the moment and the process. Play. Aim for ease in arching and sitting.
Workshop: Back-bending with ease
If you want to learn more about the ideas and techniques that inspired the video, come to my two-part back-bending workshop on Sunday October 30th and Sunday November 6th, 2pm–5pm.
At the workshop, you’ll discover how a curious approach to yoga can help develop lightness in your poses and joyfulness in your life. You’ll slowly and gently relearn how to back-bend like you did as a baby. You’ll do this by exploring various possibilities of movement, using lessons from the Feldenkrais Method.
About Oli Wiles
Oli Wiles teaches yoga and Feldenkrais classes around Wellington, including ‘Yoga for Mums’ for parents and young children in Island Bay. Oli has practised yoga since 1994 and has been teaching yoga for over 10 years. He has had many teachers, including the late Sri Pattabhi Jois, but his most important teachers have been his daughters Luca and Connie and his partner Frith.