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Why Lie on Chairs and Blocks Before Class?
by Abbie Galvin

June 10th 2014

Before class we encourage our students to use chairs and blocks for back bend variations in order to set up conditions for taking pressure off of one's lower back, opening up ones lungs and setting up a vision that supports neurology, thereby attaining a backbend without one's usual effort or one's personal propensities. The blocks act as scaffolding to one's structure rather than asking students to come in and stretch themselves. Our supported backbends are part of ones effort to tune one's instrument, open up the valves, adjust one's strings, make sure you are not flat or sharp, in preparation to use oneself as a participant in an orchestra. Tuning the instrument allows one to participate in one's own well-being, resulting in an orientation of center and circumference. This alerts our senses to what is deep within and directly without. With proper boundaries, disorder is organized, corners meet, strings have proper string tension so that when you play, the music is harmonious.

 

When we come to class we come to participate in community. We're asked to shed our first nature -- unconscious, habitual patterns which, as individuals, we unthinkingly identify with - and conform instead, to something counter-intuitive, foreign, and outside our frame of reference. What we call the "personal" is an elaborate intuition programmed after years of reacting to this capricious, exciting world. It's the way the body has come to operate on auto-pilot, sitting cross-legged on one butt, standing on one leg, favoring one direction, walking bow-legged, knocked kneed, slouching the shoulders, cocking one's head, etc...The act of measuring up in class, engaging our sheer awareness, working consciously, is the moment we engage our second nature, our most alert and conscious state. We can observe and process what is otherwise automatic and unnoticed. We learn techniques through asana, a highly conscious practice, to help us override the habitual first nature and become stable, competent, and imaginative. The use of props serve as formal boundaries rather than personal effort. 

To reform one's first nature is to agitate and disturb this delicate status quo. It can be demanding and even painful. Many of us navigate life as warriors, doers, achievers, perfectionists. Supported poses afford a moment of peace, engaging in the art of being rather than doing. Scaffolding with blocks, chairs, or poles allows one to let go of one's unconscious investment in habit and instead provide a supportive way to inform the body. One's structure is supported for a determined length of time so that bodily fluids and  circuitry can move more freely through our bones, organs, and glands, thus facilitating the body's flow of internal energy.

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Winter Becomes Spring: Back-bending Out of The Past

A natural part oflife is that our bodies degrade over time. As we get older, our back starts to creep over the front, our vision blurs, our bones thin. One's future shortens, while the past only grows, and our sense of moving forward steadily dims. As we age we progressively lose touch with the exterior, while our interior life becomes richer.  Embedded in our greater journey is a repeated cycle of growth and decay that aligns with the four seasons. During Winter, we burrow for warmth, we consume heavy, heat-producing foods, and we open up our bodies with much less frequency and fervor. The liver bears a heavy load as the purveyor of our internal cleanliness.

Backbends help flush the liver and clean it. As we enter Spring, supported poses help rejuvenate the organs , taking pressure off where we habitually sit in our backs and setting up the structure so that the lungs and liver open up in the front. Supported backbends offer an opportunity to orient ourselves on a spit, a plumb line, a tai chi, setting up a center in order not to get lost in time and space. Biochemically, we are shifting the terrain, after crawling into ourselves during winter, tilling the soil, as it were, from where a sprout can grow.  

 

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The back is meant to support potential rather than diminish it. Supported backbends help establish one's stability (lower body) and open one's front body (torso), while setting up a vision (head). Boundaries(props) diminish the effort and muscle required for good form. Binding the legs as well, create a closed circuit flushing the hips, knees and ankles . A backbend takes considerable effort and is usually the pinnacle of any sequence.  When the front is opened fully, the articulation of the arches are fully expressed. Consequently the lungs are ventilated and pressure is taken off the kidneys. 

A block under ones lower back takes the pressure off the roots by elevating the pelvis so that the front body(potential) becomes available. Elevating one's lower body takes pressure off the bottom by oxygenating the pelvis, flushing the liver, engaging the lungs by opening them in the front, making it easier on the heart (by giving it more space), and creating a cross breeze in the body.

 

VARIATIONS OF SUPPORTED BACK BENDS

Blocks under upper back:  Sitting in baddha konasana and laying back on four  blocks supports the back, taking pressure off of the kidneys, sending the lungs to the front of the body and supporting the neck to free up the vision.  The neck becomes a funnel from the lungs into the thyroid and up to the antenna. The thyroid governs the ability to self-express, to ventilate well and to regulate our chemistry.

Blocks under lower back (supported bridge): Lie on your back, lift the pelvis with a block vertically underneath the sacrum, as though  jacking up the rear end of the car. In this way, you can pump up the back tires (kidneys) with air, taking pressure off the lower back, opening up the front of the pelvis and feeding breath to the kidneys. This calms down the adrenals. Positioning the knees and ankles at right angles substantiates the hips. The front of the thighs (bottom window) is where the backbend is initiated.

Supported fish:  Sit in virasana with a block under the shoulder blades (just above bra line). Ideally, the crown touches the floor allowing the pineal gland to make light contact. The pineal gland is like a homing device.

Supported supta virasana: Place the legs through a chair laying back on the seat while holding the feet. The backbend creates a closed circuit of energy throughout the form. This allows the nervous system to calm down, the liver to stretch, the lungs to open and the eyes to flush. Thereby glands are restored, reset, and renewed.

Supported backbends help facilitate a good nervous system. The above series of backbends restore energy by refueling our internal reserves of current.  The imagination is used to set up a stable structure so that breath can move through it.  This sequence unites the mind, the body and the breath in preparation to participate in a conscious practice.