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Archive for January, 2010

This is a question that students have asked me:

Sometimes, after a deep practice with lots of backbends, I feel irritable and snappish. Are the backbends making me angry?

Backbends open the heart center (the anahata chakra) and this has different effects on different people. Some people cry or feel blue, some become energized to the point they have trouble falling asleep (no backbends right before bedtime!), and others may find themselves feeling irritable, or like they’ve just contracted sudden-onset PMS. Still others may feel wrung-out and wobbly.

The reasons for the variety of responses are probably as numerous as the responses themselves:

Some people have lots of stored emotion in their heart center that is released and accessed through postures that open the heart center. Others may have experienced physical trauma in this area. Tightness through the chest and the back of the body can be a protective response.

Backbends are physically and emotionally complex. They require trust and faith, because you’re bending backwards into the unknown. They require lots of muscle work and breath control. The configuration of backbends stimulates the endocrine system at the back of the body, the kidneys, and more specifically, the glands on top of the kidneys called the adrenals. The adrenals are instrumental in activating our “fight or flight response”. They release hormones that have an impact on our heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar, among other things.

Here is a longer essay I wrote about opening the heart center.

So my answer is this: Yes. I think backbends could (in the short term) make you feel angry, or more specifically, make you release pent-up anger.

My advice:

  • Don’t give up the backbends. If you’re having a strong reaction to them, chances are you need them, and need to work through your reaction to them.
  • Make sure you warm up thoroughly before you begin backbending.
  • Avoid caffeine and sugar before your practice.
  • Don’t eat for at least two hours before your practice.
  • Don’t backbend when taking antihistamines, diet pills, energy-boosting supplements, or after using inhalers, or other medications that can raise your blood pressure and speed up your pulse.
  • You might consider avoiding deep backbends when you’re already feeling irritable, or feeling the symptoms of PMS.
  • Pay special attention to your cool-down poses (I like several twisting postures after backbends, because they tend to calm the nervous system, and also supported forward bends) and consider including a restorative pose in your practice.
  • Extend Savasana (Final Relaxation, or Corpse Pose) and give yourself space to feel whatever comes up for you.
  • After practice, avoid caffeine, sugar, and hot, spicy foods until you feel “level” again.

I hope this helps!

I couldn’t write this post without mentioning that my dear friend Shelby once tried to talk her way out of a speeding ticket by patiently explaining to the officer that she had just come from a yoga class that had focused on backbends… it didn’t work. Even here in Northern California.

Namasté.

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