Catching the heels in backbend

There is actually a Sanskrit term for this, as I discovered, and it is called “Triyanmuka Uttasana”. Admittedly, I learned this through watching Sharath’s unreal backbending and dropback sequence on Youtube:

I have another name for it. I call it, “Holy cow, what the freaking h*ll am I doing to my poor back!?!”

I had the opportunity to try (note the operative word “try”) to catch my heels the other day during backbends, after those gnarly dropbacks. As if that wasn’t enough, right? David had come back from Mysore and filled with that wonderful energy from the source. He even let me progress through Pashasana, Krouchasana, and Shalabasana A and B, three Intermediate positions that Lisa had taught me during her substitute stay at the shala, without protest. I was hoping to progress to Behkasana but that didn’t happen — no matter, I’ve enough to deal with right now. I go through my backbends, and summon up my courage for the dropbacks and coming back ups (I don’t know the technical term for that). Of course I am ready to end there with those nice relieving forward bends (Pashimottasana), but then I need to go through the three assisted dropbacks (what do you call those after the actual dropbacks?), before the finale.

The finale was when I set my hands down into yet another deep backbend. David’s hands press hard on my hipbones, forcing my legs straight into the ceiling, it seems. At the same time, he says, “Walk in, walk in,” in the same manner that Saraswathi did. “Heels down.” I bring my heels down and walk my hands even closer. As I bend my head back into this extreme backbend, I could almost see my own heels and I immediately think, Oh, geez, is this right?

“Catch the heels,” David says.

“What?” I manage to gasp, while sweat drips down from my face.

“Catch the heels. Walk your hands further.”

I manage to see my heel (my rational mind reels at this and yells, what the freaking hell are ya doin’??) . Then I manage to take hold of it with one hand.

“Catch the other one.”

I try and…I don’t know, the feeling was so intense I could not bear it. A sob escaped my lips and tears filled my eyes. I couldn’t take hold of my other ankle with my other hand, it was too much. I inhale and David lifts me back up to standing. I blink several times and fortunately the tears and sobs don’t burst out. I rest in Pashimottasana for 10 breaths at least, before shakily commencing on my finishing sequence.

It is about three days later, and my two vertebrae are still a bit sore from this ordeal. Today, despite my best intentions, I decided to take a rest…I had been practicing 5-6 days a week for a few weeks now, and maybe it finally caught up to me. Sometimes I wonder if I would have had an easier time if I was in my 20s instead of my 40s. I sometimes get frustrated at myself, wondering why I didn’t catch onto yoga when I was younger and more limber…but like the connection between Jung and yoga — both of which can take one to a deep place — sometimes one isn’t ready for the journey until one is older.

I am reminded in Gregor Maehle’s book, The Intermediate Series, that yoga isn’t really about asanas, but about how deeply you can go into the Self as you practice. It is hard to remember because it is so easy to fall into the trappings of the ego and wanting to perfect technique…but I am beginning to realize that yoga isn’t about asana and technique, it is about how deep you can go into Self…a fact that is at once obvious and incredibly difficult to realize in reality…

3 thoughts on “Catching the heels in backbend

  1. Oh my, thanks…I’m glad the post helped you some. It is funny how time changes things, too. I read this 2 years later, and realize what a journey this practice has been. I will write another post on catching heels…but in short, what I have found is that opening the upper back, rather than stretching the lower back, is key…

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