Learning To Soften

by Claire Berghorst

In this social media filled world that we find ourselves, with images of perfect postures and perfect yogis, it can be difficult to see the real picture. The struggle that preceded the perfect photo and the story behind it. So here is part of my story with backbends… just ‘part’… as my journey is, and always will be, just that… a journey.

Backbends.. You either love them or hate them, right? They have this ability to energise us; to make us feel strong and ready to take on the world. They also require you to be open and willing to share yourself with that world – and that’s where so may of us get stuck. When we reach a place where we need to nourish our souls we draw inwards, we may meditate, we may seek loved ones, but it’s mostly a quiet space we seek. When we are feeling abundant with life and joyful we share that love and laughter, we revel in our energy.

Backbends require you to be willing to open yourself, and sometimes that’s hard. So as life has it’s natural ups and downs it makes sense that so too does our yoga journey, reflecting our external experiences back to us.

My own journey with backbends has been – well lets say – interesting, at the very least, for few other postures have challenged me both physically and emotionally as much. It started with me being fairly impartial to them – for “What could a ‘physical’ practice teach me of my own emotions?” thought my beginners mind! I quickly fell in love with them, as they were somewhat accessible to me. Granted there were many deeper backbends that I had relinquished to the back of my mind as ‘never going to happen to me’ – and I was perfectly okay with that.

But as my practice naturally evolved and the set sequence that I practice required me to go deeper into these poses; and even incorporate some of those ‘never going to happen poses’; I started to dread them. I would wish that I was past them in the sequence, and as much as my teacher guided me and I tried softening and performing each of the physical adjustments that I was given, nothing shifted. I just continued to dread them. I would stiffen, and my breath would shorten.

Then one day whilst in one of these poses, I remembered how I used to enjoy backbends, I smiled at the memory and softened. My breath returned, and I felt an ease that had been missing for some time. I would love to say that this was my big ‘ah ha’ moment, but I am pretty stubborn and hence I needed to delve deeper. Perhaps it was just the turning point for me though; that moment when I allowed myself to see things differently. In the coming months, I kept coming back to that memory.

Each time, I entered a deep backbend, my teachers mind would immediately fire-up – lengthen here’, ‘soften here’, ‘engage this’ etc. All great instructions that I needed to know – but the thing is I knew them, I just wasn’t feeling them. Slowly, after many months I managed to put my teacher’s mind aside and started to focus on just being in the posture and allowing whatever needed to happen, to happen. Whatever needed to be felt, to be felt. It was only then that I found a bit more space and I was able to move into the poses a bit deeper.

Nowadays, I don’t dread backbends, I wouldn’t say that I love them yet, but we are friends!

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